On January 17th, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced that it carried out the first successful flight of its X-61A Gremlins Air Vehicle (GAV) back in November 2019.
It flew successfully, but it couldn’t land, as its main chute malfunctioned and it was destroyed by impact with the ground.
“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 program’s Phase 3 demonstration objectives include a final flight test to demonstrate the ability to recover four GAVs in under 30 minutes.
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 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 objectives were as follows:
- 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.
The last objective was carried out successfully, but the chute malfunction, and resulted in the loss of the GAV, as mentioned above.
The X-61A GAV is an experimental apparatus for testing the concept of low-cost “swarm” airborne UAVs designed for a group air launch and capture in air back on board a carrier aircraft.
Lockheed C-130 Hercules military transport aircraft are considered the main carrier, and large UAVs, including the Predator/Reaper family.
The X-61A GAV can reach speeds of up to 0.8M, flight duration should reach 3 hours, and range – up to 926 km depending on the weight of the payload. The maximum payload is 150 pounds (approx.. 68 kg).
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