DARPA succeeds in-flight recovery of X-61A Gremlins drone

Airborne drones offer many advantages from an operational point of view, in particular that of being able to be deployed at long distance thanks to a carrier aircraft, and of not having to use their own fuel until they are released, so as to avoid only have to consume it once above or near the objective. The flight autonomy of drones is thus considerably increased, enhancing their operational efficiency. But this approach suffers from an important weak point, since once released, the chances of being able to recover the drone as soon as its mission is finished are all the more slim as it intervenes far from the allied bases. Worse, the fuel consumed, it can spoil in hostile territory, allowing the opposite to extract important information.

It is precisely to respond to this that DARPA, the Pentagon's innovation agency, has developed the X-61A Gremlins program, a system of nesting drones capable of being dropped from a C-130 aircraft. , then recovered in flight by this same aircraft once the mission has been accomplished, using a mooring system attached to an articulated arm. So far, however, flight recovery tests proved unsuccessful for DARPA, even causing the destruction of several X-61A during the tests. It must be said that succeeding in connecting a light drone to a pendulum mooring system towed by a Hercules is anything but an easy thing, in particular because of the wake turbulence generated by the imposing device.

gremlins deployment Aviation Transport | Military aircraft construction | Airdropped and nested drones
close-up of the mooring system and the articulated arm allowing the C-130 to drop and recover in flight the X-61A Gremlin

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