DARPA Recovers Unmanned X-61 Gremlin Air Vehicle In C-130 Flight

Source: Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency

For the first time, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) succesfully recovered an unmanned X-61 Gremlin air vehicle to a C-130 in flight. The Gremlin drones are made by Dynetics, a subsidiary of Leidos.

The Gremlin recovery involved two of the small drones, which successfully carried out all formation flying positions and safety features. While one Gremlin was recovered, the second was destroyed during the flight tests. The Gremlins team was then able to refurbish the recovered drone and fly it again within 24 working hours. Additionally, many hours of data were collected over four flights including: air vehicle performance, aerodynamic interactions between the recovery bullet and GAV, and contact dynamics for airborne retrieval.

DARPA hopes the program will soon allow the military to launch groups of small sensor-laden drones from bombers, cargo planes or smaller aircraft such as fighters. The motherships would stay out of range of enemy defenses, but the drone swarms would fly into danger and conduct missions such as intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance or electronic warfare. After the flights, the drones would be collected and brought back to base where ground crews would prepare them for another flight within 24 hours

The agency expects that each drone would have a lifetime of 20 flights. According to DARPA, flying these relatively disposable drones would allow the military to accomplish missions much more cheaply and with less maintenance efforts than relying on nonexpendable systems meant to fly for decades.

“This recovery was the culmination of years of hard work and demonstrates the feasibility of safe, reliable airborne recovery,” Lt. Col. Paul Calhoun, the Gremlins program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, said. “Such a capability will likely prove to be critical for future distributed air operations.”