C-130 recovers X-61 UAV mid-flight

During the latest test deployment of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Gremlins programme, an X-61 Gremlin Air Vehicle (GAV) was successfully recovered by a C-130 whilst airborne.

The flight took place last month but according to a November 5 DARPA press release “two X-61 GAV validated all autonomous formation flying positions and safety features during the flight before one was recovered mid-air by the C-130.” 

Gremlins Air Vehicle, X-61 approaches C-130 prior to being recovered mid air by the C-130. DARPA

Lt Col Paul Calhoun, programme manager for Gremlins in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office said: “This recovery was the culmination of years of hard work and demonstrates the feasibility of safe, reliable airborne recovery, such a capability will likely prove to be critical for future distributed air operations.”

During the test flights, the DARPA team also refurbished a X-61 after flight and conducted a second flight within 24 hours. A total of four test flight deployments took place and data was collected throughout all flights. This data gathered included GAV performance, aerodynamic interactions between the recovery system aboard the C130 and GAV and contact dynamics for airborne retrieval. One GAV was destroyed during the flight tests.  

DARPA Gremlins programme X-61 flies in trail of C-130 during fligh test development of the UAV. DARPA

DARPA launched the Gremlins programme with a vision to allow military forces to launch groups of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) from large bomber or transport aircraft as well as fighter aircraft. The UAVs will be launched whilst the adversary subject is still out of range from the launching aircraft, keeping manned aircraft behind the threat line but still allowing an attack on the adversary.  After completing the tasked mission, the UAVs will be recovered via C-130 aircraft mid-air and the C-130 would transport them back to base. Ground crews will then prepare them for use again within 24 hours rather than being unrecoverable after use.