How to Land a Drone on a Manned Airplane: DARPA’s ‘Gremlins’

December 5, 2016 | Source: Breaking Defense, Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.

This time, General Atomics’ secret weapon isn’t the drone. It’s the mechanical arm that catches it in mid-flight — and then hauls it into the back of a C-130 cargo plane, also in mid-flight.

General Atomics, which builds the iconic Predator, has rolled out its offering for DARPA’s Gremlins program, blandly called the Small Unmanned Air Vehicle (SUAS). The goal: Build drones — and equally critical, a launch and recovery system — that can take off from a manned aircraft, conduct a mission and come back aboard the plane.

Getting the drone back is “the DARPA-hard part,” said Chris Pehrson, General Atomics VP for Strategic Development in an interview at the Air Force Association conference here last week. GA’s solution blends sophisticated software with cartoony mechanics, as if their senior engineer were Wiley E. Coyote.

They recover the drone with “a mechanical arm that comes down and grabs it,” Pehrson told me. “It’s almost like a Transformer-type thing.”

General Atomics also has a more “elegant” solution, a mechanism mounted under the C-130’s wing that reels out a cable on which the drone can catch, then reels it back in.

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