Somebody thought that they were a good idea.



X-61A Gremlins

The U.S. Air Force has assigned the X-61A designation to the Dynetics Gremlin about five months before the first scheduled flight demonstration of the UAV, which can be recovered in-flight. A Dynetics spokesperson confirmed the experimental designation on 06 August 2019 at the Space and Missile Defense Symposium in Huntsville, Alabama.


Military air operations typically rely on large, manned, robust aircraft, but such missions put these expensive assets and their pilots at risk. While small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) can reduce or eliminate such risks, they lack the speed, range and endurance of larger aircraft. These complementary traits suggest potential benefits in a blended approach, one in which larger aircraft would carry, launch and recover multiple small UAS. Such an approach could greatly extend the range of UAS operations, enhance overall safety, and cost-effectively enable groundbreaking capabilities for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and other missions.

For decades, U.S. military air operations have relied on increasingly capable multi-function manned aircraft to execute critical combat and non-combat missions. Adversaries abilities to detect and engage those aircraft from longer ranges have improved over time as well, however, driving up the costs for vehicle design, operation and replacement.

An ability to send large numbers of small unmanned air systems (UASs) with coordinated, distributed capabilities could provide U.S. forces with improved operational flexibility at much lower cost than is possible with today’s expensive, all-in-one platforms, especially if those unmanned systems could be retrieved for reuse while airborne. So far, however, the technology to project volleys of low-cost, reusable systems over great distances and retrieve them in mid-air has remained out of reach.

To help make that technology a reality, DARPA launched the Gremlins program. The program envisions launching groups of UASs from existing large aircraft such as bombers or transport aircraft as well as from fighters and other small, fixed-wing platforms while those planes are out of range of adversary defenses. When the gremlins complete their mission, a C-130 transport aircraft would retrieve them in the air and carry them home, where ground crews would prepare them for their next use within 24 hours.

Under the Gremlin program, Defense Advanced Research Project Agency [DARPA] envisions a swarm of approximately 20 high performance unmanned aerial vehicles that are deployed by an inflight aircraft, and are later recovered, inflight, by an aircraft. DARPA planned a demonstration for 2019 of their ability to shoot out swarms of drones from larger transport aircraft and recover them mid-flight, according to a new report. The drones are part of the Gremlin program, which seeks to deploy and retrieve small unmanned aerial vehicles launched from US Air Force C-130 aircraft that are capable of flying 300 nautical miles and carrying 60 pounds of electronic equipment.

The gremlins expected lifetime of about 20 uses could provide significant cost advantages over expendable systems by reducing payload and airframe costs and by having lower mission and maintenance costs than conventional platforms, which are designed to operate for decades.


  1. Very interesting. Sounds like a logical evolution of the Vietnam-era recon drones that were launched from C-130s and recovered in-flight by… C-130s.

    As to the Goblin? After it failed, the Air Force got the brilliant idea of, while in-flight, having F-84s hook up to either wing-tip to serve as tethered escort fighters to B-36 Peacemakers. Which they actually did, for a while. Oh, great, have a bomber with a large crew and bathrooms, bunks, chowhall and all the comforts of home but make the poor fighter-jock hang out in his cramped cockpit for 12-24 hours. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant. At least with the Goblin the fighter pilot got a chance to use all the comforts of the bomber, before going off to die an ugly death.

    As to some really whacky designs, check out and see what crazy things those Nazis were dreaming of. Some of them made what we did look positively normal.

    • Being sent to Goblin flight training would be the moral equivalent of manning a radar tower in Alaska.

      CO (Looking at the roster) “Who should we send to the Goblins?” (Beans just went to the head)

      (Squadron – by acclimation) “Send Beans, he always wanted the job.”

      CO – “Ok, if you’re sure he wants the job.”

      Squadron (as one) “Make it a surprise. Don’t tell him until he gets his orders.”

  2. I’ve always thought that weird cropduster is sort of an airplane designed for a world where airplanes are essentially cars. It would kind of be a farm truck, there.


    • Cropdusters are really just flying trucks. But you can stunt the heck out of them (difficult to do with a tractor).

  3. When engineers are let loose.

    Coulda painted it lime green like that stalwart AMC thing they called a car. (I’d have liked to been a fly on the that meeting where the geniuses determined this was THE name they were going to market with.)

    • Most engineers say “I can design and build it” without ever pausing to ask whether it would be a good idea to design and build it.

      • I tried to never be that type. ‘Course, your gremlin examples could be akin to government design by committee, like the 3-handed operation gas cans we wrestle with, dumping fuel all over the place (the exact opposite result of the brainiac gov’t design criteria).

  4. What would the mission be for that red plane? It looks like it would carry one person traveling a few hundred miles with no luggage, maybe just a laptop, that needs to be somewhere all of a sudden with no time for a scheduled flight.

    Regular two seater airplanes would be more practical. At least they can carry a few hundred pounds more cargo.

    • The air is thin, the wings are stubby. It’s a jet, and you’d likely have the power. You just would need a long runway. And then, how long would the fuel last?

      As to the Goblins, I don’t know what their combat radius would be. Likely good, given that you’re taking off from the B-36, but then where do you land/eject? Not the best job in the USAF.

  5. Yikes. That Goblin looks to define the concept of “pitch sensitive”. surprised it was even flyable without computer stability control.

    • Agreed. Can you imagine what the test pilots said when they were directed to the Goblin? Of course those guy’s egos were big enough that they think that they can fly anything.

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