Leidos subsidiary Dynetics has successfully test flown a second X-61A Gremlins Air Vehicle (GAV), as well as the Gremlins airborne recovery system, for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) as the company steps up testing ahead of LAND 129 Phase 3.
The series of tests focused on risk reduction, as well as system and subsystem performance verification, in preparation for an airborne recovery test later this year.
The overarching goal of the Gremlins Program, managed by DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, is to demonstrate aerial launch and recovery of multiple low-cost reusable unmanned aerial systems (UASs).
Tim Keeter, program manager for the Dynetics Gremlins team ,said, “We have taken a major step forward towards accomplishing airborne recovery, and we are ever so close to achieving it.”
The test series involved all segments of the Gremlins Demonstration System, including GAVs, the launch and recovery system, the airborne operator control station and the Gremlins command, control and communications system.
“Our second GAV flown to date performed very well, which increases our confidence in the X-61A. And for the first time, we rendezvoused and flew in close formation with the recovery C-130 multiple times using the Gremlins Autonomous Docking System (GADS). Multiple captive tests were also conducted for the first time, with actively controlled GAVs attached to the stabilised towed docking device.”
The test flight was originally scheduled for earlier this spring, but was delayed due to the global pandemic caused by COVID-19.
The second X-61A flew for a total flight time of two hours and 12 minutes. It flew in formation with the C-130 from as close as 125 feet back and 125 feet below the C-130 position. At the end of the test, the GAV was recovered on the ground using the parachute system.
Brandon Hiller, Dynetics X-61A chief engineer, explained, “Our team was excited to fly the GAV for a second time following the delays caused by the global pandemic. While we successfully tested both the GAV and recovery system, we decided during the mission to stop short of docking. We now have additional data, which will help us tune the system and further validate our models. These results are encouraging and present higher confidence to achieve airborne recovery in our next flight.”
The roll-on/roll-off recovery system (which includes the physical structure, the docking structure, the towed, attitude-controlled “Bullet” and the in-flight stowage system) performed as designed.
Marvin Hill, Dynetics X-61A recovery system chief engineer, stated, “As we expected, reeling the GAV in while docked on the Bullet, and then securing it inside the C-130 cargo bay is a safe and benign activity. It’s like fishing in the sky, except the fish weighs 1,200 pounds.”
The Dynetics Gremlins team consists of the following companies, each representing best-in-class capabilities for their roles on the program: Kratos Unmanned Aerial Systems, Williams International, Applied Systems Engineering, Kutta Technologies, Moog, Sierra Nevada Corp, Systima Technologies, and Airborne Systems.
Additional support for the flight test included Dugway’s Rapid Integration and Acceptance Center, International Air Response and High-G Technologies.
The Dynetics team was one of four companies awarded a Phase 1 contract for the Gremlins program in 2016. Phase 2 was awarded in March 2017 to two of the initial four performers, and Phase 3 followed in April 2018, when Dynetics was named the top performer. The maiden flight of the X-61A occurred in November 2019, flying as predicted with no anomalies in the operational system.