US X-61A Gremlins Reusable, Air Launched and Recovered Drones

US Gremlins Reusable, Air-Launched and Recovered
X-61A Drones. Defense contractor Dynetics has offered new
drones about its flight test plans for the first prototypes of its X-61A Gremlins reusable,
air-launched and recovered drones. The program, which aims to eventually demonstrate the ability
of these unmanned aircraft to operate as a low-cost drone swarm.
The Gremlins drones, which the Air Force designated as X-61A in August 2019, and has completed
five so far for Dynetics. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been
running the Gremlins program since 2015 and selected the Dynetics-led team to proceed
to the final demonstration phase of the program in 2018.
Dynetics’ concept involves air launching the Gremlins from a carrier aircraft and then
recovering them in midair. The drones each have a docking device, which folds flush with
the fuselage when not in use, that then locks into a shuttle towed behind the recovering
aircraft. That plane then reels in the unmanned aircraft.
DARPA envisions the Gremlins acting as a semi-autonomous or autonomous swarm and conducting various
missions, such as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance or launching electronic
attacks on hostile air defenses. Dynetics has noted in the past that swarms of X-61A
could also perform a multitude of other missions, including kinetic strikes.
Dynetics has conducted some general testing of the recovery system already, but has yet
to conduct an actual first flight with one of the X-61. It had planned to do so using
a specially configured C-130 Hercules transport aircraft from International Air Response.
Under the current plan, International Air Response’s C-130 will launch the Gremlin from
a pylon under the wing and personnel onboard will control it. Dynetics says its current
control system can direct up to eight X-61A simultaneously. After the flight, “we’ll
deploy our parachute and our airbags to have a gentle ground recovery, hopefully,” Dynetics’
Keeter told Air Force Magazine. This is a very well established method for recovering
unmanned aircraft that has been in use since the 1970s.
“That will allow us to further check our recovery system, docking system avionics, and our safety
features associated with that, because that’s a high-risk part of the operation, is getting
close to that manned aircraft,” Keeter said. “We want to do that in February [2020].”
The last phase of the flight test demonstration program, which Dynetics hopes will take place
no later than next summer, may still be too much for the Navy facilities to handle, unfortunately.
Under the contract with DARPA, the company will have to demonstrate its system recovering
four X-61A within 30 minutes. The company is exploring the possibility of
full autonomy for the X-61A and into adapting the launch and recovery mechanisms to work
with various types of mounting options on other aircraft, including on a rotary launcher
in a B-52’s bomb bay, according to Air Force Magazine. An unspecified U.S. military customer
had previously inquired about whether it might be possible to recover the drones and then
refuel and re-launch them all in flight, according to Flight Global. DARPA has long indicated
that its main goal with Gremlins was to demonstrate a proof of concept that other elements within
the U.S. military could then expand upon to meet their specific operational needs.
It will certainly be exciting to see the progress Dynetics has already made in its development
of the Gremlins drones. Thank You, For Watching. Please Like, Share,
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