The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has completed the first flight test for it GREMLIN UA programme, designated X-61A by the US Air Force (USAF), the agency announced on 17 January.

The test at the Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in November included one captive-carry mission aboard a C-130A and an airborne launch and free flight lasting just over an hour-and-a-half.

The goal for this third phase of the GREMLIN programme is completion of a full-scale technology demonstration series featuring the air recovery of multiple, low-cost, reusable UAS or GREMLINs. Safety, reliability, and affordability are the key objectives for the system, which would launch groups of UAS from multiple types of military aircraft while out of range of hostile defences. Once GREMLINs complete their mission, the launch 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 team met all objectives of the November test, including gathering data on operation and performance, air and ground-based command and control systems and flight termination. One test vehicle was lost as a result of a parachute anomaly during a recovery sequence: the equipment was specific to the test and is not part of the operational plan. Four vehicles remain operational and available for the test series, with a second flight tet anticipated at Dugway this spring.

"The vehicle performed well, giving us confidence we are on the right path and can expect success in our follow-on efforts," commented Scott Wierzbanowski, Program Manager for GREMLIN in DARPA's Tactical Technology Office. "We got a closer look at vehicle performance for launch, rate capture, engine start and transition to free flight. We had simulated the performance on the ground and have now fully tested them in the air. We also demonstrated a variety of vehicle manoeuvre that helped validate our aerodynamic data."

The C-130 is the demonstration platform for the Gremlins program, but Wierzbanowski says the Services could easily modify the system for another transport aircraft or other major weapons system. GREMLINs also can incorporate several types of sensors up to 150 pounds, and easily integrate technologies to address different types of stakeholders and missions.

A Dynetics-led team is the performer for the Phase 3 demonstration series.

A GREMLIN air vehicle during a flight test at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, November 2019. (Photo: DARPA)

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