The Navy has unveiled a new warrant officer specialty for those who will be operating the MQ-25 Stingray carrier-based refueling drone.

The service is gearing up to recruit approximately 450 warrant officers, in grades W-1 through W-5, for the new aerial vehicle operator (AVO) warrant officer specialty, designated 737X, over the next six to 10 years, according to a Navy news release.

“AVOs will start out operating the MQ-25 Stingray, the Navy’s first carrier-based unmanned aerial vehicle, which is expected to join the fleet with an initial operating capability in 2024,” Capt. Christopher Wood, aviation officer community manager at the Bureau of Naval Personnel in Millington, Tennessee, said in the release.

Navy Recruiting Command will not start accepting applications for AVO accessions until fiscal 2022, however. Applications will be open to enlisted sailors already in the fleet, as well as “street-to-fleet” warrants, the Navy said.

Those accepted will head to Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island, to become designated as Warrant Officer 1, followed by basic flight training to receive their “wings of gold” and receive the AVO designator. They will also undergo advanced training on the MQ-25 aircraft.

Warrant officers fit the bill because AVOs will likely advance as technical specialists during their Navy careers as they complete repetitive assignments.

“Unlike traditional Navy Chief Warrant Officers, the majority of these officers will be accessed much younger and trained along the lines of current Naval Aviators and Naval Flight Officers in the unrestricted designators,” Wood said.

“However, Naval Aviators and Naval Flight Officers require assignments that progress in tactical and leadership scope to be competitive for promotion, while warrant officer AVO’s will be technical specialists and spend their careers as operators,” Wood said.

Down the line, these warrant officers may also become trained to operate other Navy unmanned aerial vehicles, such as the MQ-4C Triton, the service said.

The Navy announced in 2018 that Boeing was being awarded an $805 million contract for the design, development, fabrication, test and delivery of four MQ-25 aircraft.

The Navy is planning on acquiring more than 70 Stingrays, with the aircraft reaching initial operational capability by 2024.

In September 2019, the MQ-25 participated in its first test flight. Just last week, the Navy and Boeing announced that the MQ-25 T1 test asset had completed its first flight using an aerial refueling store at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah, Illinois, with Boeing test pilots.

Boeing said that it employed the Cobham ARS for the flight, noting that the ARS is the same as the one that F/A-18s utilize for air-to-air refueling as well.

“Having a test asset flying with an ARS gets us one big step closer in our evaluation of how MQ-25 will fulfill its primary mission in the fleet — aerial refueling,” Capt. Chad Reed, the U.S. Navy’s unmanned carrier aviation program manager, said in a Boeing news release. “T1 will continue to yield valuable early insights as we begin flying with F/A-18s and conduct deck handling testing aboard a carrier.”

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