Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) personnel said recent attempts at airborne retrieval of three unmanned air vehicles, nicknamed Gremlins, was inches from success in the latest flight test series.
During the initiative, which began on Oct. 28, each X-61A Gremlins Air Vehicle (GAV) flew for more than two hours, validating autonomous formation flying positions and safety features.
“All of our systems looked good during the ground tests, but the flight test is where you truly find how things work,” Scott Wierzbanowski, program manager for Gremlins in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, said. “We came within inches of connection on each attempt, but, ultimately, it just wasn’t close enough to engage the recovery system.”
Nine attempts were made at mechanical engagement of the GAVs to the docking bullet extended from a C-130 aircraft. Still, relative movement was more dynamic than expected and each GAV safely parachuted to the ground.
“We made great strides in learning and responding to technological challenges between each of the three test flight deployments to date,” Wierzbanowski said. “We were so close this time that I am confident that multiple airborne recoveries will be made in the next deployment. However, as with all flight testing, there are always real-world uncertainties and challenges that have to be overcome.”
The Gremlins program’s goal is to demonstrate air launch and air recovery of four GAVs within 30 minutes. Data is being analyzed to pursue additional flights and retrieval attempts in a fourth deployment this spring.