General Atomics maximizes fuel capacity for US Navy’s first carrier-based UAV

General Atomics uses advanced composite expertise to develop integrated fuel tanks in MQ-25 unmanned aerial refueling vehicle test article.

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General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA-ASI, Poway, CA,US) announced July 4 it is using an integrated fuel tank structure to maximize fuel offload for its proposed concept for the MQ-25 unmanned aerial refueling aircraft for the US Navy. GA-ASI applied its knowledge of advanced composite aircraft structures to develop integrated fuel tanks in a large-scale wing box test article and a full-scale wing skin pre-production validation article.

The wing box tested to failure via wing bending at GA-ASI’s Adelanto, CA, US structural test facility in November 2017. In April, the company verified the production readiness of the co-cured wing and tail components using both non-destructive and destructive inspections.

“The integral fuel tank wing box test article will reduce technical and schedule risk for the program,” says David R. Alexander, president, Aircraft Systems, GA-ASI. “Specifically, through extensive validation of fuel containment sealing methods, advanced non-linear buckling finite element analysis models and thick composite laminate construction, we have accelerated engineering design consideration prior to the detail design phase and production.”

A full-scale inner-wing skin demonstration article built in March at GA-ASI’s Spanish Fork, UT, US facility verified the MQ-25 tooling concepts, lamination approach and processes. The team validated the outer mold line tooling approach for the build process which enables accelerated engineering and tooling fabrication for the MQ-25 program.

Boeing (Chicago, IL, US) and Lockheed Martin (Bethesda, MD, US) have also proposed concepts for the Navy’s MQ-25 program.