VIRGINIA – The US Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) to launch unmanned aerial systems (UASs) from airborne aircraft carriers.
This is the planned final phase of its “Gremlins” program, which aims to develop swarms of reusable drones (the ‘gremlins’) which can be launched and retrieved in mid-air, the E&T reports. The program was named after the devious, fantastical creatures, which were blamed for sabotaging aircraft by British pilots serving in the Second World War.
The project aims to provide a cheaper alternative reusable drone to larger aircraft, which have higher payloads and maintenance costs.
When the gremlins complete their mission, a C-130 transport aircraft would retrieve them in the air and carry them home, where ground crews would prepare them for their next use within 24 hours.
The drones could be reused up to 20 times. Eventually, these drones could be deployed from stealthier, manned fighter aircraft as well as carriers.
Darpa has confirmed that it has awarded contracts to two US-based companies General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and Dynetics to develop designs for prototype drones and perform in-flight risk reduction testing for the second phase of the program.
Each ‘gremlin’ is required to carry a 60lb (27kg) payload for up to an hour while flying up to 300 nautical miles (556km) from its carrier. They may be recovered by being mounted onto the fixed wings of an aircraft or by being loaded into a cargo bay.
The third phase of the program will select a contractor to build a UAS swarm for full-scale technology demonstrations in 2019.