C-130 Hercules plane catches DARPA Gremlins drone in mid-flight

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The United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has successfully demonstrated the recovery of an X-61 Gremlins drone, recovering it from a C-130 Hercules aircraft in flight. The complex maneuver was part of the Gremlins program and took place last month in Utah.

DARPA’s Gremlins program envisions launching groups of up to four drones from large aircraft such as bombers or aircraft carriers while out of range of enemy defenses. The Gremlins were designed to work in conjunction with the Lockheed C-130 Hercules, which is tasked with recovering vehicles in flight and returning them to base. Once at base, drones can be reused within 24 hours.

Gremlins can be used up to 20 times and provide significant benefits to military forces, reducing payload costs as well as mission and maintenance expenses compared to other conventional platforms.

Air Force Lt. Col. Paul Calhoun, the manager of the Gremlins program, says the latest protest represents “A culmination of years of hard work and demonstrates the feasibility of safe and reliable airborne recovery. ”

Last year, DARPA attempted to demonstrate this aerial recovery capability, but attempts were unsuccessful. Now the agency has released a video showing a Gremlins drone captured by the C-130. The exercise took place at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, last month and saw two X-61 drones fly and be restored for reuse in less than 24 hours.

In total, more than four flight tests were performed before an X-61 finally demonstrated its in-flight recovery capability. The other was not so lucky, as it was destroyed during flight tests. This demonstration allowed the team to collect data, which will be used in future missions.

“Airborne recovery is complex” Calhoun said. “We’re going to take some time to build on the success of this deployment, and then get back to work doing further analysis of the data and determining the next steps for the Gremlins technology. “

The Gremlins program aims to demonstrate the launch and recovery of four Gremlin drones from the air in less than half an hour. Aerial recoveries are crucial for military forces as they have the potential to dramatically increase the range and military use of drones in combat scenarios.


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