DARPA has announced that its unmanned Gremlins X-61A air vehicle has completed a second round of aerial tests at the US Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. In late July 2020, the agency completed multiple air-vehicle ground and recovery tests as part of the Gremlins program to develop drone swarming systems.
Established in 2015, the goal of the Gremlins program is to develop and demonstrate the ability to air-launch and air-recover up to four unmanned drones, called Gremlins, in half an hour. This is more than just a technological feat, it is key to the US military’s goal to integrate Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs) into the nation’s combat air fleets as a way to augment the manned forces and place fewer humans in harm’s way.
According to DARPA, the July tests were a follow-up to the first flight tests in November 2019 when an X-61A was carried in a captive-carry test followed by a free flight that lasted over 90 minutes. In the second test, the Gremlins system demonstrated the ability to safely air launch a Gremlin, which was then ground-recovered after a two-hour flight.
During the flight, the vehicle performed rendezvous and autonomous formation station-keeping maneuvers with a C-130 Hercules transport, keeping itself at a distance of 125 ft (38 m).