US Gremlins programme demonstrates UAV airborne recovery

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An unmanned air vehicle (UAV) has demonstrated successful airborne recovery during the latest test flight by the United States Department of Defense advanced research project.  

During the deployment, two X-61 Gremlin Air Vehicles (GAV) successfully validated all autonomous formation flying positions and safety features before one GAV demonstrated airborne recovery to a cargo plane.

“This recovery was the culmination of years of hard work and demonstrates the feasibility of safe, reliable airborne recovery,” said Lt. Col. Paul Calhoun, program manager for Gremlins in The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Tactical Technology Office. “Such a capability will likely prove to be critical for future distributed air operations.”

During the final experiment, the team refurbished an X-61 vehicle and conducted a second flight within 24 working-hours. In addition, many hours of data were collected over four flights including air vehicle performance, aerodynamic interactions between the recovery bullet and GAV, and contact dynamics for airborne retrieval. Unfortunately, one GAV was destroyed during the flight tests.

“Airborne recovery is complex,” said Calhoun. “We will take some time to enjoy the success of this deployment, then get back to work further analysing the data and determining next steps for the Gremlins technology.”

According to the project, safe, effective, and reliable air recoveries promises to expand the range and potential uses of UAVs in conflict situations. The GAVs can be equipped with a variety of sensors and other mission-specific payloads. They can also be launched from various types of military aircraft, keeping manned platforms safely beyond the range of adversary defences.

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