Last month, Leidos [LDOS] subsidiary Dynetics, Inc., conducted its second risk reduction and performance verification test of the X-61A Gremlins Air Vehicle (GAV) at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Tactical Technology Office, the company said on Aug. 26.
The first X-61A test last November featured one captive-carry mission on an Air Force C-130A transport aircraft and an airborne launch and 90 minute free flight, but the test flight vehicle was lost during ground recovery “due to a failure to extract the main chute.” (Defense Daily, Jan. 23). Dynetics built five GAVs for Phase 3 of the program and thus has four remaining.
Last month’s second test of the X-61A featured a two hour and 12 minute flight in formation with the C-130 and a ground recovery using the parachute system.
An airborne recovery test is planned by the end of the year, as DARPA seeks to leverage its experience with GAV to build a low-cost, reusable small drone that can be deployed from existing aircraft and enable autonomous operations, distributed battle management via swarming technologies and the carriage of advanced payloads. Dynetics has participated in the Gremlins program since its inception in 2016, and in 2018 was awarded a Phase 3 contract worth $38.6 million for a 21-month demonstration phase.
The test last month “involved all segments of the Gremlins Demonstration System, including GAVs, the launch and recovery system, the airborne operator control station and the Gremlins command, control and communications system,” per Dynetics. “The test flight was originally scheduled for earlier this spring, but was delayed due to the global pandemic caused by COVID-19.”
The Gremlins team includes Dynetics, Kratos [KTOS], Sierra Nevada Corp., Kutta Technologies, Inc., Applied Systems Engineering, Inc.; Williams International; Systima Technologies, Inc.; Airborne Systems; Moog Inc. [MOG.A]; International Air Response. and High-G Technologies.
In a statement, Tim Keeter, program manager for the Dynetics Gremlins team, called last month’s second test “a major step forward towards accomplishing airborne recovery” and said that the test marked the first time that the X-61A “rendezvoused and flew in close formation with the recovery C-130 multiple times using the Gremlins Autonomous Docking System (GADS).”
Yet, Brandon Hiller, Dynetics X-61A chief engineer, said that Dynetics “decided during the mission to stop short of docking” but that the additional test data has given the company “higher confidence to achieve airborne recovery in our next flight.”
Multiple captive tests were also conducted for the first time, and actively-controlled GAVs were attached to the stabilized towed docking device, Keeter said.
“This demonstrated the ability of the recovery system to safely reel in and stow GAVs once they have docked,” he said “The data collected from these tests will provide the necessary information to perform final tuning of GADS.”
The Dynetics team was one of four companies awarded a Phase 1 contract for the Gremlins program in 2016. Phase 2 was awarded in March 2017 to two of the initial four performers, and Phase 3 followed in April 2018, when Dynetics was named the top performer.
Under Phase 3, the team is to test the ability to recover four GAVs in under 30 minutes, before approaching new stakeholders to launch an official program of record.