Mq25 T1 Test Asset Refuels Usnfa18 400

Boeing to Build $200M Drone Plant

Sept. 19, 2021
The 300,000-sq.ft., highly automated operation opening near St. Louis in 2024 will manufacture the MQ-25 Stingray, an unmanned aircraft developed for carrier-based refueling of U.S. Navy fighter jets.

Boeing Defense, Space & Security plans to build a $200-million, 300,000-sq.ft. plant in southern Illinois to manufacture the MQ-25 Stingray, a carrier-based unmanned aircraft, for the U.S. Navy. The OEM has not confirmed the value of the capital investment, though it reported the plant scheduled for a 2024 start-up at the MidAmerica St. Louis Airport will employ approximately 150 mechanics, engineers and support staff.

The location is a civilian airfield adjacent to Scott Air Force Base, where the Boeing-St. Clair subsidiary produces components for CH-47 Chinook helicopters, F/A-18 Super Hornet fighters, and other defense equipment. It’s in suburban St. Louis, MO, where Boeing Defense is headquartered.

The MQ-25 Stingray, which Boeing calls “the Navy’s newest carrier-based aircraft,” is an unmanned aerial vehicle (aka, a drone) that will offer refueling to extend the combat range of Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, Boeing EA-18G Growler, and Lockheed Martin F-35C fighters – all carrier-based aircraft. Boeing states that the new UAV “brings the right combination of refueling, autonomy, and seamless carrier deck integration to meet the U.S. Navy’s goals.”

The State of Illinois is providing income-tax incentives to Boeing for its investment in the new plant, which the OEM said will incorporate robotic automation and “advanced assembly techniques” to improve product quality and employee health and safety.

The Illinois Dept. of Transportation and governor’s office are providing additional cash for site improvements, according to reports.

Boeing and the Navy have been flight testing Boeing’s MQ-25 “test asset” from MidAmerica Airport for the past two years. The U.S. Navy plans to acquire more than 70 MQ-25 aircraft, and Boeing is currently producing the first seven models, plus two ground test articles, at its St. Louis operations.

In addition to Boeing, the MQ-25 manufacturing consortium includes about 20 manufacturing suppliers, including BAE Systems, Collins Aerospace, Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions, GE Aviation, Héroux-Devtek, Honeywell, Innovative Power Solutions, L3 Commercial Aviation, Moog Aircraft Group, Parker Hannifin, Raytheon, Rolls-Royce, and Triumph Group.

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