KQ-X is a program designation commissioned by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) of the United States to modify a pair of existing NASA Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles for research into Autonomous Aerial Refueling practices and feasibility. A $33 million contract was awarded to Northrop Grumman for the program requirements which have involved installation of a hose-and-drogue assembly arrangement in which one Global Hawk would act as the aerial refueling tanker whilst the other Global Hawk would become the target aircraft to be refueled. The benefits of such a program are obvious, allowing for completely autonomous function of a UAV design without any required human interaction. It is estimated that the addition of in-flight refueling with Global Hawk UAVs could add as much as one week of uninterrupted flight for the product.
In August of 2012, it was announced that the pair of Global Hawks had completed a close-formation flight. The flights were undertaken back in May of 2012. Contrary to the normal arrangement of the hose-and-drogue fuel delivery system currently in use by fixed-wing aircraft (in which the receiving aircraft tailed the refueler), the KQ-X program is utilizing a receiver aircraft situated ahead and above the trailing tanker, the hose being lowered to the awaiting tanker. The tanker aircraft was identified by its long nose probe used in collecting sensitive mission data. The twin aircraft were put through all manner of close-ranged positions in the testing.
The second phase of testing has since been placed on hold as the Global Hawks were reverted back to NASA specifications for the upcoming hurricane season. Post-October, the Global Hawks will be reverted once again back to the KQ-X configuration for additional testing concerning Phase 2.
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