DOD launches swarming drone in test of C-130 “drone mothership” concept

An artist's concept of how Gremlins would fill the skies, launched from manned motherships.

Enlarge / An artist’s concept of how Gremlins would fill the skies, launched from manned motherships. (credit: DARPA)

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been conducting research into a number of types of swarming drones that could be used on the battlefield. The latest of these is the “Gremlins” program—an effort to build relatively low-cost unmanned aircraft that can be launched from a “mothership” transport aircraft and then be recovered by the mothership after their mission is complete.

This past week, the Defense Department conducted the first airborne launch test for the Dynetics X-61A Gremlins Air Vehicle, a jet-powered drone that can be launched from the rotary weapons bays of the B-1 and B-52, from wing pylons, or from a C-130—and then recovered by a C-130 equipped with a docking cable and a crane-like recovery arm.

A DARPA video describing the Gremlins program.

The first flight of the X-61A took place in November, but the test this week—at the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah—was the first air launch of the drone. While the 101-minute flight was successful, the parachute system intended to allow for a soft ground landing failed, and the drone was destroyed in the unexpected hard landing that followed.

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