Dynetics X-61A


Dynetics, the performer for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Gremlins program, has announced that in Nov. 2019, it successfully flew its X-61A Gremlins Air Vehicle (GAV) for the first time 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, which lasted one hour and 41 minutes.

Some of the test objectives included demonstrating a successful launch of the GAV from the C-130, collecting data on GAV subsystem operation and performance, and demonstrating the flight termination and ground (parachute) recovery of the GAV (demonstration system only – not part of the operational system).

According to Dynetics, the X-61A flew the way it was supposed to with no anomalies, and achieved all of its test objectives that relate to the operational system. The engine was shut down at the end of the mission, and a drogue chute successfully deployed to terminate flight, but due to a failure to extract the main chute, the vehicle was lost during the ground recovery sequence.

“This flight marks a historic milestone for Dynetics and the Gremlins program,” says 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 Gremlins program is managed out of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office (TTO). The main goal of the Gremlins is to “accelerate the ability to perform aerial launch and recovery of volley quantities of low-cost, reusable” UAS, Dynetics explains. Dynetics adds that the Nov. 2019 test is the next step toward the completion of the program’s Phase 3 demonstration objectives, which include a final flight test to demonstrate the ability to recover four GAVs in less than 30 minutes.

Last year was a very successful year for the Gremlins team, as the team reached several milestones throughout the course of the year. In February, a successful flight test of the docking system was conducted. In March, the Gremlins team performed its first flight of the GAV avionics system, installed onboard the Calspan Variable Stability System (VSS) Lear Jet as a dress rehearsal for the Nov. 2019 flight. The team also received a U.S. Air Force-assigned X-61A designation in August.

“This flight test validates all the engineering design work, analysis, and ground testing we have performed in the past two and a half years,” says Brandon Hiller, chief engineer for the X-61A.

“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.”

January 21, 2020.