• DARPA’s Gremlins program seeks to develop innovative technologies and systems that would enable aircraft to launch volleys of low-cost, reusable unmanned aerial systems and safely and reliably retrieve them in midair.
     DARPA’s Gremlins program seeks to develop innovative technologies and systems that would enable aircraft to launch volleys of low-cost, reusable unmanned aerial systems and safely and reliably retrieve them in midair.

Gremlins UAS Program Enters Second Phase

March 16, 2017


DARPA awards contracts to Dynetics and General Atomics.


The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently completed phase 1 of its Gremlins program, which envisions volleys of low-cost, reusable unmanned aerial systems (UASs)—or “gremlins”—that could be launched and later retrieved in midair. Taking the program to its next stage, the agency has awarded phase 2 contracts to two teams, one led by Dynetics Inc., Huntsville, Alabama, and the other by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., San Diego.

“The phase 1 program showed the feasibility of airborne UAS launch and recovery systems that would require minimal modification to the host aircraft,” said Scott Wierzbanowski, DARPA program manager. “We’re aiming in phase 2 to mature two system concepts to enable ‘aircraft carriers in the sky’ using air-recoverable UASs that could carry various payloads—advances that would greatly extend the range, flexibility and affordability of UAS operations for the U.S. military.”

Gremlins phase 2 research seeks to complete preliminary designs for full-scale technology demonstration systems as well as to develop and perform risk-reduction tests for individual system components. Phase 3 goals include developing one full-scale technology demonstration system and conducting flight demonstrations involving airborne launch and recovery of multiple gremlins. Flight tests are scheduled for the 2019 time frame.

The gremlins’ expected lifetime of about 20 uses could provide significant cost advantages over expendable unmanned systems by reducing payload and airframe costs and by having lower mission and maintenance costs than conventional manned platforms.

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