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Military Gremlin drone grabbed mid-flight for the first time in DARPA program

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Groundbreaking moment US military plane grabs drone in mid-air like a toy in a claw machine for the first time, bringing Department of Defense a step closer to deploying the UAVs from a mothership

  • An arm of the US Department of Defense has recovered a Gremlin drone during mid-flight for the first time
  • A C-130 dropped a cable that latched onto the drone, pulling it inside the plane
  • Soldiers refurbished the Gremlin drone, allowing it to fly again within 24 hours 










An X-61 Gremlin Air Vehicle (GAV), an unmanned reconnaissance vehicle developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has been recovered while in mid-flight for the first time, DARPA announced Friday.

During the demonstration held last month, two of the drones performed autonomous formation flying positions before one GAV was recovered by a C-130 – the other drone was destroyed during flight.  

DARAP, which is the research and development agency of the U.S. Department of Defense, conducted another testing with the remaining GAV, which was recovered and flown again in 24 hours.

The demonstration is a major milestone in the U.S. military’s work toward using a mothership to deploy swarms of drones over a battlefield.

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An X-61 Gremlin Air Vehicle (GAV), an unmanned reconnaissance vehicle developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has been recovered while in mid-flight for the first time

An X-61 Gremlin Air Vehicle (GAV), an unmanned reconnaissance vehicle developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has been recovered while in mid-flight for the first time

Lt. Col. Paul Calhoun, program manager for Gremlins in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, said in a statement: ‘This recovery was the culmination of years of hard work and demonstrates the feasibility of safe, reliable airborne recovery.

‘Such a capability will likely prove to be critical for future distributed air operations.’ 

Developed by Dynetics, an American defense and aerospace company that was also in the running to build NASA’s new lunar lander, GAV can be integrated with the strike, reconnaissance, and cargo aircraft, as well as ground support systems operational with the US Armed Forces.

It is intended to support intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), mobile target attack, suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD), and close air support (CAS) missions.

A C-130 plane dropped a cable that latched onto the drone, pulling it inside the plane

A C-130 plane dropped a cable that latched onto the drone, pulling it inside the plane

The GAVs can also be fitted with a variety of sensors and other mission-specific payloads. 

They can also launch from a variety of different military aircraft, allowing crewed air vehicles to keep a safe distance from a warzone. 

The latest demonstration shows that after air retrieval, the GAVs can be refurbished by ground crews to prepare them for another mission within 24 hours.

During the demonstration held last month, two of the drones performed autonomous formation flying positions before one GAV was recovered by a C-130 – the other drone was destroyed during flight

During the demonstration held last month, two of the drones performed autonomous formation flying positions before one GAV was recovered by a C-130 – the other drone was destroyed during flight

The demonstration is a major milestone in the US military's work toward using a mothership to deploy swarms of drones over a battlefield

The demonstration is a major milestone in the US military’s work toward using a mothership to deploy swarms of drones over a battlefield

‘Airborne recovery is complex,’ said Calhoun. 

‘We will take some time to enjoy the success of this deployment, then get back to work further analyzing the data and determining next steps for the Gremlins technology.’

GAV is a major key to the US military being able to send large numbers of small unmanned air vehicles into battle at once, which is being worked on by DARPA’s Gremlins program that is named after the ‘mischievous imps that became the good luck charms of many British pilots during World War II.’

‘The gremlins’ expected lifetime of about 20 uses could provide significant cost advantages over expendable systems by reducing payload and airframe costs and by having lower mission and maintenance costs than conventional platforms, which are designed to operate for decades,’ according to DARPA.

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