DARPA takes another step towards the flying aircraft carrier with the Gremlins X-61A

On January 17th, the American defense research agency DARPA announced that the X-61A Gremlins drone designed by Dynetics made its first flight last November, dropped by a C-130 Hercules. For practical and safety reasons, it is not uncommon to see an experimental device, with or without a pilot, launched by a transport aircraft. In the case of the X-61A, however, the launch mode was an integral part of the flight tests, the Gremlins being a demonstrator of reusable drones launched and recovered in flight

The X-61 program stems directly from a initiative launched in 2014 by DARPA and aimed at developing a "flying aircraft carrier" from a Hercules cargo plane cell. This required developing on one hand a system for implementing and recovering drones aboard the C-130 Hercules, and on the other hand the recoverable mini-drones themselves. For DARPA, the idea is then to be able to operate unmanned planes from a safety distance, by giving reactivity and operational flexibility to mini-drones, often too limited by their speed and autonomy when launched from the ground.

Close-up on one of the Gremlins X-61A prototype during flight tests

An old idea brought up to date

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