Gremlins program completes second flight test, delays air recovery demo

By Sara Sirota / August 25, 2020 at 3:26 PM

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Gremlins program has completed a second round of flight tests of Dynetics' X-61A drone but delayed the first air recovery attempt to later this year.

The July demonstration at Dugway Proving Ground, UT included captive flight tests of the X-61A on a C-130 and a controlled launch where the drone flew more than two hours, DARPA announced in a press release today.

Scott Wierzbanowski, the Gremlins program manager, said the X-61A's performance was consistent with the first flight test in November 2019, where the program completed one captive-carry mission and an airborne launch and free flight lasting just over 90 minutes.

During the inaugural demonstration, a parachute anomaly occurred during a recovery sequence, resulting in the loss of one vehicle, leaving four to remain available for testing. The anomaly was specific to the testing effort and not part of the operational plan, a DARPA press release said at the time.

The Gremlins program seeks low-cost, attritable drones that can be air-launched and retrieved mid-air via a recovery system, after which ground crews would prepare them for another use within 24 hours.

According to today's notice, DARPA decided to delay the first air recovery attempt so the program could instead focus on key risk-reduction activities, though it's unclear what those activities were.

The team will resume flight tests in October with the goal of recovering one -- and then two -- X-61As in the same flight. DARPA anticipates completing the test series by the end of 2020 with a demonstration that recovers four drones mid-air within 30 minutes.

"This final demonstration will showcase the capability of safe, effective, and efficient air recoveries, revolutionizing the application and utility of attritable" unmanned aerial vehicles, the press release states.

Although the Gremlins program is using a C-130 as its demonstration platform, the recovery system is intended to be easily modified and compatible with various transport aircraft and weapon systems. The drones can carry up to 150 pounds of sensors.

The ongoing test series represents the third phase of the Gremlins program. DARPA is currently in negotiations for the fourth phase of the effort, which will demonstrate the technology in an operationally relevant environment, according to the agency's notice.