Video of the week: DARPA recruits gremlins for air supremacy

This week’s video is a mixture of explanatory CGI and real footage that demonstrates how ‘volley quantities’ of ‘gremlins’ – a detachment of unmanned aerial vehicles – can be launched and recovered while airborne.

The capability is being developed for DARPA’s acronym-free ‘Gremlins’ UAS programme, which is being taken forward by a team led by Alabama-based Dynetics.

Phase One contracts were announced on March 31, 2016 that challenged participating companies – Composite Engineering, Dynetics, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, and Lockheed Martin – to realise DARPA’s vision of multiple UAVs launching from existing platforms while those planes remained clear of danger. The gremlins would then set about conducting ‘complex, highly-adaptive missions in contested environments’.

After their mission, the gremlins would then be retrieved by a C-130 military transport aircraft, taken back to base and readied for their next mission.


In April 2018 Dynetics received $38.6m to take the project into its third and final stage, which is scheduled to culminate in the airborne launch and safe recovery of multiple UAVs onto a C-130 in late 2019.

Dynetics said that it has developed a solution that involves deploying a towed, stabilised capture device below and away from a C-130.  The UAV docks with the device much like an airborne refuelling operation. Once docked and powered off, the air vehicle is raised to the C-130, where it is mechanically secured and stowed. The key technologies can be adapted to allow under-wing recovery and bay recovery by other cargo aircraft.

According to DARPA, the gremlins’ expected lifetime of about 20 uses could ‘provide significant cost advantages by reducing payload and airframe costs, and by having lower mission and maintenance costs than conventional platforms, which are designed to operate for decades.’