The news: The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has conducted the first test of a new type of drone that can be launched from a plane in a swarm and recovered in mid-air when it has done its job.
How it works: A military transport or bomber plane releases a series of drones in rapid succession. They carry out the task designated to them (surveillance, for example) and then return to the plane, docking on a line before being winched in. It looks a bit like the airborne refueling process.
Testing: A test, which took place in Utah in November but first reported this week, showed that a military transport plane can successfully launch and monitor the drone, known as an X-61A Gremlin. However, after a successful mid-air launch and a flight lasting 1 hour, 41 minutes, the drone crashed when “mechanical issues” prevented its parachute from deploying, the firm behind the drone, Dynetics, said in a press statement. There is video of the test here (warning: it includes bad music). This spring, DARPA will try to fly and recover four of the drones for the first time.