DARPA catches airborne X-61 Gremlins drone from C-130 loading ramp | New
In October, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) first caught an airborne X-61 Gremlins unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) using a mechanical arm and a mooring “bullet” towed deployed from the loading ramp of a Lockheed Martin C-130.
The successful recovery of the experimental drone comes after aborted and unsuccessful attempts in three test events since late 2019. DARPA has used two Dynetics X-61 drones in its recent flight tests, one of which was destroyed in due to an electrical system failure, he said Nov. 5.
Flight tests at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah validated all autonomous formation flight positions and safety characteristics of the X-61 system, DARPA said.
“This recovery was the culmination of years of hard work and demonstrates the feasibility of a safe and reliable airborne recovery,” said Lt. Col. Paul Calhoun, program manager for Gremlins in the tactical technology office of the DARPA. “Such a capability will likely prove essential for future distributed air operations. “
Four flights were conducted in October to collect data on the performance of the aircraft, aerodynamic interactions between the recovery ball and the UAV, and the dynamics of contact with the UAV during recovery, said the ‘agency.
As part of the final experiment, DARPA recovered and refurbished an X-61 and performed a second flight in “24 hours of work”. The refurbished drone was recovered from the ground.
Five examples of the experimental X-61 drone were built as part of the Gremlins program. An X-61 was also destroyed when its parachute failed to deploy on a first test flight in 2019.
“Airborne recovery is complex,” Calhoun explains. “We’re going to take some time to build on the success of this deployment, and then get back to work doing further analysis of the data and determining the next steps for the Gremlins technology. “
DARPA sees aerial launch and recovery as a way to extend the range of drones, as well as a way to achieve multiple uses of drones that might otherwise be difficult to recover.
In addition, by forgoing the features necessary for launching and recovering from runways, such as landing gear, these types of aircraft could be lighter and cheaper. The US Air Force calls the type “attritable,” which means UAVs that are cheap enough to be wasted to combat attrition and then replaced cheaply.
“The expected lifespan of Gremlins of around 20 uses could provide significant financial advantages over consumable systems by reducing payload and airframe costs and having lower mission and maintenance costs than platforms. conventional forms, designed to work for decades, ”says DARPA.
Gremlins-type drones would likely be used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and other non-kinetic missions.
“They can also be launched from various types of military aircraft, keeping manned platforms safe beyond the reach of adversary defenses,” DARPA adds.
After the successful recovery demonstration, the research agency said it was discussing next steps for the Gremlins program.