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DARPA, Dynetics move Gremlins focus to aerial recovery

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Dynetics are shifting their focus in the Gremlins programme to aerial recovery of the X-61A demonstrator after completing the device’s first flight test in November 2019.

The goal of this third phase of Gremlins will be the completion of a full-scale technology demonstration series featuring the air recovery of multiple, low-cost, reusable X-61A unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), according to a DARPA statement. The system would launch groups of the device from multiple types of military aircraft while out of range of adversary defences. Once the X-61A demonstrators complete their mission, the transport aircraft would retrieve them in the air and carry them home, where ground crews would prepare them for their next use within 24 hours.

The X-61A demonstrator during a November 2019 flight test at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. (DARPA)

The X-61A demonstrator during a November 2019 flight test at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. (DARPA)

Tim Keeter, Dynetics Gremlins programme manager, told reporters on 21 January that aerial recovery of the X-61A will combine military capabilities found in airborne aerial refuelling and towing targets in the air. According to a video provided by the Pentagon, the recovery begins with a towed, stabilised capture device, similar to a hose-and-drogue, pushed out from the back of a Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules transport aircraft. DARPA plans to use a C-130 to recover the X-61A in its flight test scheduled to take place in the second quarter of 2020.

As the X-61A gets closer to the drogue, a small metallic arm pops out of the top of the aircraft, which then enters the capture device. The wings of the X-61A then shift to be parallel to the aircraft, rather than perpendicular.

A screenshot from a US Air Force video showing one of two ways DARPA plans to aerial recover the X-61A. The other way is via a similar hose-and-drogue device positioned off the right wing of the C-130. (US Air Force)

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