Home Air DARPA finally demonstrates mid-air recovery of air-launched UAV in fourth Gremlins test

DARPA finally demonstrates mid-air recovery of air-launched UAV in fourth Gremlins test

Aerial recovery of a Gremlins air-launched drone
Photo: DARPA

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has successfully demonstrated the recovery of an unmanned air vehicle with a C-130 transport aircraft in the latest test undertaken as part of the Gremlins program.

According to the agency, the successful recovery took place during the fourth test flight carried out with the X-61 Gremlin Air Vehicles (GAV). The first three tests under the program were completed between late 2019 and late 2020.

The successful recovery flights took place in October.

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

During the final experiment, the team refurbished an X-61 vehicle and conducted a second flight within 24 working hours. In addition, 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. Unfortunately, one GAV was destroyed during the flight tests.

“Airborne recovery is complex,” said Calhoun. “We will take some time to enjoy the success of this deployment, then get back to work further analyzing the data and determining next steps for the Gremlins technology.”

The goal of the Gremlins program is to demonstrate air launch and air recovery of four GAVs within 30 minutes. The capability of safe, effective, and efficient air recoveries is expected to expand the potential uses of unmanned air vehicles in conflict situations.

Photo: DARPA

The recoverable UAVs can be equipped with a variety of sensors and other mission-specific technologies. They can also be launched from various types of military aircraft, keeping those less expendable assets beyond the range of adversary defenses. After air retrieval of GAVs, they would be transported back to the ground where crews could prepare them for another mission within 24 hours.

DARPA has been working working on the program with Dynetics since 2018. The Gremlins industrial team also includes Kratos Unmanned Aerial Systems, Williams International, Applied Systems Engineering, Inc., Kutta Technologies, Inc., Moog Inc., Sierra Nevada Corporation, Systima Technologies, Inc., and Airborne Systems.