Gremlins Program Completes First Flight Test for X-61A Vehicle
(Source: Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency; issued Jan 17, 2020)
Darpa said Jan 17 that its X-61A Gremlin unmanned air vehicle had made its first flight in late November. The program aims to launch and retrieve low-cost UAVs with a focus on safety, reliability, and affordability. (Darpa photo)
DARPA's Gremlins program has completed the first flight test of its X-61A vehicle. The test in late November at the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah included one captive-carry mission aboard a C-130A and an airborne launch and free flight lasting just over an hour-and-a-half.

The goal for this third phase of the Gremlins program is completion of a full-scale technology demonstration series featuring the air recovery of multiple, low-cost, reusable unmanned aerial systems (UASs), or “Gremlins.” Safety, reliability, and affordability are the key objectives for the system, which would launch groups of UASs from multiple types of military aircraft while out of range from adversary defenses. Once Gremlins complete their mission, the transport aircraft would retrieve them in the air and carry them home, where ground crews would prepare them for their next use within 24 hours.

The team met all objectives of the test in November, including gathering data on operation and performance, air and ground-based command and control systems, and flight termination. A parachute anomaly occurred in a recovery sequence that is specific to the test series and not part of the operational plan. The incident resulted in the loss of the test vehicle, one of five in the program. Four vehicles remain operational and available for the test series, which will continue in 2020.

"The vehicle performed well, giving us confidence we are on the right path and can expect success in our follow-on efforts," said Scott Wierzbanowski, the program manager for Gremlins in DARPA's Tactical Technology Office. "We got a closer look at vehicle performance for launch, rate capture, engine start, and transition to free flight. We had simulated the performance on the ground, and have now fully tested them in the air. We also demonstrated a variety of vehicle maneuvers that helped validate our aerodynamic data."

Dynetics, the performer for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Gremlins program, has successfully flown its X-61A Gremlins Air Vehicle (GAV) for the first time in November 2019. (Dynetics video)


The next step for the program is a full evaluation of the test data, as well as to understand any issues related to the failure for the main parachute to deploy. The team anticipates the second flight test at Dugway in the spring 2020 timeframe to remain on track.

The C-130 is the demonstration platform for the Gremlins program, but Wierzbanowski says the Services could easily modify the system for another transport aircraft or other major weapons system. Gremlins also can incorporate several types of sensors up to 150 pounds, and easily integrate technologies to address different types of stakeholders and missions.

The U.S. Air Force designated the Gremlins air vehicle as X-61A in August in recognition of the technical challenges associated with the program.

A Dynetics-led team is the performer for the Phase 3 demonstration series.

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Dynetics’ X-61A Gremlins Air Vehicle Performs Its Maiden Flight
(Source: Dynetics; issued January 17, 2020)
Dynetics, the performer for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Gremlins program, has successfully flown its X-61A Gremlins Air Vehicle (GAV) for the first time in November 2019.

The test took place at Dugway Proving Ground near Salt Lake City, Utah. Testing operations involved one captive-carry mission aboard a TBM, Inc. C-130A and an airborne launch and free flight of the X-61A that lasted one hour and 41 minutes.

The test objectives included:
-- Demonstrating a successful launch of the GAV from the C-130
-- Demonstrating a rate capture, wing deployment, cold engine start, and transition to stable, powered flight
-- Collecting data on GAV subsystem operation and performance
-- Verifying air and ground-based command and control systems, including data link performance and handovers between air and ground control
-- Deploying the GAV docking arm
-- Demonstrating the flight termination and ground (parachute) recovery of the GAV (demonstration system only - not part of the operational system).

The X-61A flew as predicted with no anomalies, achieving all test objectives that relate to the operational system. At the end of the mission, the engine was shut down and a drogue chute successfully deployed to terminate flight. Unfortunately, the vehicle was lost during the ground recovery sequence due to a failure to extract the main chute.

Managed out of DARPA's Tactical Technology Office (TTO), the overarching goal of Gremlins is to accelerate the ability to perform aerial launch and recovery of volley quantities of low-cost, reusable unmanned aerial systems (UASs). This test is the next step toward the completion of the program's Phase 3 demonstration objectives, which include a final flight test to demonstrate the ability to recover four GAVs in under 30 minutes.

"This flight marks a historic milestone for Dynetics and the Gremlins program," said Tim Keeter, Dynetics Gremlins program manager. "The GAV flew beautifully and our command and control system kept us in total control of the GAV for the entire flight. The loss of our vehicle validates our decision to build five GAVs for Phase 3; we still have four remaining. Overall, I am proud to see all the hard work pay off and we are excited to continue this momentum towards the first airborne recovery in early 2020."

The Gremlins team celebrated a number of milestones in 2019 including a successful flight test of the docking system in February. In March, they executed the first flight of the GAV avionics system, installed onboard the Calspan Variable Stability System (VSS) Lear Jet as a dress rehearsal for this November 2019 test. Dynetics also hosted a stakeholder's day highlighting a live engine test in July and received a U.S. Air Force-assigned X-61A designation in August.

The Dynetics team was one of four companies awarded Phase 1 in 2016. Phase 2 was awarded in March 2017 to two of those four performers, and Phase 3 followed in April 2018, naming Dynetics the top performer.

"This flight test validates all the engineering design work, analysis, and ground testing we have performed in the past two and a half years," Brandon Hiller, chief engineer for the X-61A said. "We have a lot of confidence in the vehicle's performance and overall design going forward, and the telemetry data from the flight compares exceptionally well to our modeling predictions. Our team has done a superb job to achieve first flight of this unique aircraft in such a short amount of time, and we are eager to get this new capability into the hands of the DoD."

The Dynetics Gremlins team consists of companies that represent best-in-class capabilities for their roles on the program - Kratos Unmanned Aerial Systems, Williams International, Applied Systems Engineering, Inc., Kutta Technologies, Inc., Moog Inc., Sierra Nevada Corporation, Systima Technologies, Inc., and Airborne Systems.

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