Military Embedded Systems

DARPA's Gremlin UAS-recovery tests "within inches" of success, will continue in 2021


December 15, 2020

Lisa Daigle

Assistant Managing Editor

Military Embedded Systems

DARPA's Gremlin UAS-recovery tests "within inches" of success, will continue in 2021
DARPA photo.

U.S. ARMY DUGWAY PROVING GROUND, Utah. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has announced that in recent tests, a number of X-61A Gremlins unmanned aerial systems (UASs) failed to link up in flight with a recovery system installed on a C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft, but that they were actually close to success on multiple occasions.

“All of our systems looked good during the ground tests, but the flight test is where you truly find how things work,” said Scott Wierzbanowski, program manager for Gremlins in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. “We came within inches of connection on each attempt but, ultimately, it just wasn’t close enough to engage the recovery system.” DARPA says that the project will attempt another round of capture attempts on the Gremlin UASs in 2021. 

According to a DARPA news release on the tests, the goal of the Gremlins program is to demonstrate air launch and air recovery of four Gremlin small UASs within 30 minutes, with the success proving that safe, effective, and efficient air recoveries will dramatically expand the potential uses of unmanned air vehicles in contested situations. The Gremlins -- developed by Dynetics, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Leidos -- can be fitted with a variety of sensors and other mission-specific technologies and can be launched from various types of military aircraft. The point of the air recovery of the Gremlins is that they are then transported back to the ground, where crews prepare them for another mission within 24 hours.

Even though the most recent tests did not achieve their goals, DARPA offcials say that hours of data were collected over three flights, including aerodynamic interactions between the docking bullet and the Gremlins. Efforts are already underway to analyze the data collected, update models and designs, and run additional flights and retrieval attempts in a fourth deployment in spring of 2021.

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