One defining characteristic has given unmanned aircraft their foothold in aviation—endurance. Leave out the pilot and an aircraft can fly for longer. But engineering for persistence is a straitjacket that has constrained designers’ options—until now. Northrop Grumman, whose slender-winged, slow-flying Global Hawk helped define persistence with its 30-hr.-plus endurance, thinks one event has removed those design limits: the first autonomous aerial refueling of an unmanned ...

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