DARPA has announced that its Gremlins project came closer than ever to snatching a drone out of the air. The series of flight tests kicked off in late October, with the most recent having taken place earlier this month. According to officials, the aircraft came within ‘inches’ of retrieving a Gremlins drone in flight.
The project involves the X-61A Gremlins Air Vehicle (GAV) and a C-130 aircraft, which, DARPA notes, attempted to retrieve the drones using an extended ‘docking bullet.’ An unanticipated amount of dynamic movement foiled the attempt, though the drone came within inches of successful docking.
DARPA explains that each of the three Gremlins drones flew for more than two hours in order to validate various systems, including safety features and autonomous formation flying tech. Those validation tests were successful, but the drones didn’t quite nail the docking experience.
Experts were able to acquire multiple hours of data during the flights, including information on how the Gremlins and docking bullet interacted. Analyzing this data will help the team update the designs and models for a future attempt scheduled to happen next spring.
Ultimately, DARPA aims for the capability to deploy and recover four Gremlin drones in half an hour, something the agency says would make these types of autonomous vehicles much more useful in ‘conflict situations.’ Because the Gremlins are more expendable than larger, more expensive aircraft, they can be used in high-risk situations while the more critical aircraft hang back.