Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, DARPA, is still developing Project Gremlins, which appears to be close to capturing drones in flight.
The agency said it was a few steps away from success during the last round of test flights.
The series of flight tests began in late October, with the most recent taking place earlier this month, and according to officials, the plane was inches away from recovering the Gremlins drone in flight.
The project includes three X-61A Gremlins drones and a C-130, which, DARPA notes, attempted to recover the drones with the extended arm, but the unexpected dynamic movement foiled the attempt.
Each of the X-61A Gremlins flew more than two hours on the third series of test flights to validate the various systems, including safety features and autonomous flight technology.
DARPA made nine attempts to capture X-61A Gremlins using the extended arm of the C-130, but none were successful.
Relative motion was more dynamic than expected, the agency said, and the X-61A Gremlins landed safely on the ground.
Scott Wierzbanowski, Gremlins Program Manager at DARPA’s Office of Tactical Technology, said in a statement: “All of our systems looked good during ground tests, but flight testing is where it determines how things work.
The agency says: It is analyzing data obtained from flights and working on updated designs and models, and plans to conduct a fourth round of tests in the spring.
The Gremlins project aims to launch and recover four autonomous aircraft within 30 minutes.
DARPA, which has been working on the program for several years, believes that the ability to carry out such operations greatly increases the potential uses of autonomous air vehicles in conflict situations.
Given that the X-61A Gremlins autonomous aircraft are reusable, they save military money after they are put into service.
DARPA expects that the autonomous aircraft will be able to fly 20 times before it is replaced, and after being recovered can be equipped to perform another mission 24 hours later.
DARPA’s Gremlins project, investigating airborne retrieval of unmanned air vehicles, “came within inches” of grabbing the drones in its third flight test. Progress made inspires confidence in the next attempt, which is slated for spring of 2021. https://t.co/YoDnpsvVR9 pic.twitter.com/F27Bivmg42— DARPA (@DARPA) December 10, 2020