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 (UAS) that could be launched from multiple military aircraft out of range of adversary defenses. When the UAS complete their mission, a C-130 transport aircraft would retrieve them mid-air and carry them home to be prepared for re-use within 24 hours.

The gremlins’ expected lifetime of about 20 uses could provide cost advantages compared to expendable unmanned systems.

DARPA has awarded Phase 2 contracts to teams led by Dynetics Inc., Huntsville, Alabama; and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., San Diego, California.

“The Phase 1 program showed the feasibility of airborne UAS launch and recovery systems that would require minimal modification to the host aircraft,” says 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 seeks to complete preliminary designs for full-scale technology demonstration systems and develop and perform risk-reduction tests of 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 2019.

US Coast Guard patrols with Insitu ScanEagle

The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) used Insitu’s ScanEagle unmanned air vehicle to intercept more than six tons of cocaine valued at $55 million and apprehend 10 suspected drug traffickers during a recent deployment aboard USCG cutter Stratton. The event marked the first time a USCG cutter used a small unmanned aerial system (sUAS) for an entire patrol.

During the six-week deployment in the eastern Pacific Ocean, ScanEagle flew 39 sorties for a total of 279 hours, including one operation where the aircraft provided persistent surveillance for 22.7 flight hours in a 24-hour period. ScanEagle was equipped with multiple sensors including electro-optic, thermal, and telescope cameras that delivered aerial imagery to the Stratton crew.

The USCG has released a draft request for proposal to procure sUAS capabilities for its entire national security cutter fleet.

GKN Aerospace produces Predator B landing gear

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA-ASI)’s Dutch in-country partner, GKN Aerospace’s Fokker business, opened an automated production line for landing gear systems in Helmond, the Netherlands, for GA-ASI Predator B/MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft (RPA). The companies have been working together for several years to offer Predator aircraft to the Dutch Armed Forces.

The first landing gear will be delivered in Q2 2017, with planned annual production of 30 to 50 landing gear units. The supply chain includes about 10 Dutch small- and medium-size enterprises (SMEs).

GA-ASI and Fokker hope to collaborate in applying advanced composites in the Predator B landing gear to reduce weight and improve production lead times.;