Pentagon successfully tested a second Gremlins drone
Leidos courtesy photo
The U.S. Defense Department with Dynetics has successfully tested a second X-61A Gremlins Air Vehicle, according to a company news release.
On August 25, Dynetics announced that its wholly-owned subsidiary of Leidos successfully tested a second X-61A Gremlins Air Vehicle (GAV), as well as the Gremlins airborne recovery system, last month at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
The series of tests focused on risk reduction, as well as system and subsystem performance verification, in preparation for an airborne recovery test later this year. The overarching goal of the Gremlins Program, managed by DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, is to demonstrate aerial launch and recovery of multiple low-cost reusable unmanned aerial systems (UASs).
The test series involved all segments of the Gremlins Demonstration System, including GAVs, the launch and recovery system, the airborne operator control station and the Gremlins command, control and communications system. The test flight was originally scheduled for earlier this spring, but was delayed due to the global pandemic caused by COVID-19.
“We have taken a major step forward towards accomplishing airborne recovery, and we are ever so close to achieving it,” said Tim Keeter, program manager for the Dynetics Gremlins team. “Our second GAV flown to date performed very well, which increases our confidence in the X-61A. And for the first time, we rendezvoused and flew in close formation with the recovery C-130 multiple times using the Gremlins Autonomous Docking System (GADS). Multiple captive tests were also conducted for the first time, with actively-controlled GAVs attached to the stabilized towed docking device. This demonstrated the ability of the recovery system to safely reel in and stow GAVs once they have docked. The data collected from these tests will provide the necessary information to perform final tuning of GADS.”
The second X-61A flew for a total flight time of 2 hours and 12 minutes. It flew in formation with the C-130 from as close as 125 feet back and 125 feet below the C-130 position. At the end of the test, the GAV was recovered on the ground using the parachute system. “Our team was excited to fly the GAV for a second time following the delays caused by the global pandemic,” said Brandon Hiller, Dynetics X-61A chief engineer. “While we successfully tested both the GAV and recovery system, we decided during the mission to stop short of docking. We now have additional data, which will help us tune the system and further validate our models. These results are encouraging and present higher confidence to achieve airborne recovery in our next flight.”
The roll-on/roll-off recovery system (which includes the physical structure, the docking structure, the towed, attitude-controlled “Bullet” and the in-flight stowage system) performed as designed. Marvin Hill, Dynetics X-61A recovery system chief engineer stated, “As we expected, reeling the GAV in while docked on the Bullet, and then securing it inside the C-130 cargo bay is a safe and benign activity. It’s like fishing in the sky, except the fish weighs 1,200 pounds.”
“We’re excited to continue our progress with the Gremlins program,” said Keeter. “This is what we’ve been working towards for the past four years, and we are eager to advance the Gremlins system’s capabilities for DARPA and the warfighter even further. Rapid and reliable airborne recovery is a game-changing capability for autonomous, distributed airborne operations. Our entire team brought about a disciplined test demonstration and moved the program forward. We believe Gremlins will advance operational flexibility and effectiveness in the near future.”
The Dynetics Gremlins team consists of the following companies, each representing best-in-class capabilities for their roles on the program: Kratos Unmanned Aerial Systems, Williams International, Applied Systems Engineering, Inc., Kutta Technologies, Inc., Moog Inc., Sierra Nevada Corporation, Systima Technologies, Inc. and Airborne Systems. Additional support for the flight test included Dugway’s Rapid Integration and Acceptance Center (RIAC), International Air Response and High-G Technologies.
An F-35 pilot trains in a simulator. Recently, the Air Force opened the doors of the Virtual Test and Training Center, a building where pilots will practice advanced tactics in a simulated environment that replicates war against a near-peer nation. (Lockheed Martin)
On Aug. 17, the Air Force opened the doors of the Virtual Test and Training Center, or VTTC, a new, $38 million building where pilots will practice advanced tactics in a simulated environment that replicates war against a near-peer nation.
“When you think about great power competition and where we might have to fight — shipping out to fight a China or Russia, particularly — there is no live training venue for the joint force, certainly for the Air Force, that’s big enough, that has the threat density that can replicate what China or Russia can do,” said Maj. Gen. Chuck Corcoran, who leads the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center at Nellis.
While live exercises will remain an important component of pilot training, the VTTC will give the Air Force a way to simulate a vast battlespace populated by high-end threats. Users will be able to network with other pilots on the system — who fly F-16s, F-22s, F-35s and F-15Es, with perhaps more to come — and fly complex missions against virtual enemies that are impossible to emulate in live training exercises like Red Flag.
The VTTC building, which Defense News toured during an Aug. 21 visit to the base, is currently empty. But it won’t stay that way for long, said Lt. Col. Chris Duncan, an F-35 operational test pilot and commander of Detachment 1, 29th Training Systems Squadron.
F-15E Strike Eagle simulators are slated to be delivered to the center in October and will go online in April 2021. The joint simulation environment — a government-owned virtual training environment currently under development at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, and when finished will emulate high-end threats — is set to be fielded at the VTTC in October 2021.
“Typically aircraft simulators have taught pilots how to fly them and basic employment,” Duncan said. “We’re not worried about those things. We’re assuming they already know that.” Instead, the training will focus on more robust mission sets, including advanced training for Air Force Weapons School students, operational testing of new platforms and large-scale war games, he said.
The Air Force is deliberating how best it can expand the VTTC’s capabilities over time on a limited budget. Among the factors under consideration is whether to buy additional simulators, such as ones for the new F-15EX. It may roll out the Nellis Mission Operations Network, on which the VTTC will run, to other bases such as Whitman Air Force Base in Missouri — the home to the service’s only stealth bomber.
There is also discussion about how to integrate the simulators on the network with live aircraft flying on the Nevada Test and Training Range, which would allow the VTTC to project synthetic threats to jets practicing midair tactics.
Historically, the Air Force has been hard-pressed to fund advanced simulation efforts. The ultimate success of the VTTC may ultimately come down to whether there is enough money to continue funding simulators for additional aircraft and to keep upgrading hardware and software.
Duncan said the Air Force is already keeping that point in mind. Instead of simulators that provide a completely accurate cockpit experience, the service is looking to save money by prioritizing simulators that can provide the experience of advanced missions, even if the simulator imagery or cockpit experience isn’t completely realistic.
But he underscored the cost-effectiveness of virtual training when compared to its live counterpart.
“The payoff, the bang for the buck,” Duncan said, “it far surpasses what we can do in live flying.”
Northrop’s F-22 Jet’s EGI-M Navigation System Completes Critical Design Review
F-22 is one of the lead platforms for EGI-M integration (image via F-22 Demo Team)
Northrop Grumman has completed the critical design review (CDR) milestone for the Embedded Global Positioning System (GPS) / Inertial Navigation System (INS)-Modernization, or EGI-M, program.
EGI-M provides airborne navigation capabilities with an open architecture that enables rapid responses to future threats. The fully modernized system integrates new M-Code capable GPS receivers, provides interoperability with civil controlled air space, and implements a new resilient time capability.
The launch platforms for the EGI-M are F-22 and E-2D. Additional fixed-wing and rotary-wing platforms across Department of Defense and allied forces have already selected Northrop Grumman’s EGI-M as their future navigation solution.
The modular platform interface design enables backwards compatibility with existing platform footprint and interfaces (A-Kits), allowing current platforms to easily integrate and deploy Northrop Grumman’s EGI-M solution. At the same time, EGI-M’s modular software / hardware, coupled with government ownership of key interfaces, allows EGI-M to benefit from rapid upgrades with best of breed software and hardware technologies now and in the future.
Northrop Grumman has been on contract for the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase of EGI-M since November 2018. The CDR milestone marks the completion of detailed hardware and software design of the EGI-M product line.
Northrop Grumman shares video of Firebird demo at North Dakota facility
U.S. defense contractor Northrop Grumman put out a short video on Facebook showing optionally-piloted Firebird multi-mission aircraft execute Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) demos from the company’s North Dakota facility.
The Firebird is an intelligence-gathering aircraft with autonomous mission capability. Available in manned, autonomous and optionally piloted configurations, Firebird is designed to provide ISR payload and cockpit flexibility through truly open architecture and plug-and-play payload integration.
Northrop Grumman’s Firebird product line delivers a proven airframe with autonomous mission capability. The system’s unique hardware- and software enable users to carry out a wide range of ISR missions for 30 plus hours at approximately 25,000 feet.
Firebird’s innovative architecture represent a new approach to delivering medium altitude ISR. NG’s technology enables mission flexibility, allowing users to accomplish their mission through different pilot and payload configurations, whether for line-of-sight or beyond-line-of sight operations.
Firebird is equipped with wide band Line-of-Sight (LoS) and Beyond-Line-of-Sight (BLoS) data links, onboard storage and accessible processing for rapid data exploitation to ensure timely completion of missions.
The system’s unique design allows sensors to be changed rapidly as plug-and-play devices, reducing ‘first time’ payload integration time from months to days and enabling rapid field changes in less than an hour to increase operational availability and tailored mission suitability.
F-22 Stealth Fighter Ends Up Nose Down On The Runway At Eglin Air Force Base In Florida
An F-22 Raptor stealth fighter suffered a nose gear failure at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida earlier today. The pilot, who landed the plane after suffering an unspecified in-flight emergency, was subsequently taken a medical facility on base to be evaluated, but their exact status is unclear.
The mishap occurred at around 3:30 PM local time and an investigation is underway into the exact cause or causes, according to a press release from the 96th Test Wing, the main unit at Eglin. The F-22 involved in the accident was assigned to the 325th Fighter Wing, which is technically based at Tyndall Air Force Base, also in Florida. However, the 325th's Raptors have been flying from Eglin, as well as other bases around the country, since Hurricane Michael devastated Tyndall in 2018.
USAF An F-22 Raptor stealth fighter belonging to the 325th Fighter Wing lands at Eglin Air Force Base.
"The F-22 experienced an in-flight emergency," the press release from the 96th Test Wing read, according to Northwest Florida Daily News. "The aircraft landed safely. There was one person on board. Fire crews responded immediately and the pilot was transported to flight medicine for an evaluation."
A picture reportedly showing the jet nose down on the runway with its canopy open, along with two crash trucks behind it, subsequently emerged on the unofficial "Air Force amn/nco/snco" Facebook page. This comes nearly two months after another F-22 suffered a very similar-sounding mishap due to an unspecified landing gear issue at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia.
This is not the first mishap an F-22 has suffered since the jets began flying out of Eglin in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael. In May 2020, one of the 325th's Raptors crashed near the base. The pilot was, thankfully, able to safely eject.
It's also not the first time an F-22 has suffered a mishap that has involved its fuselage scraping against the ground. In two separate incidents in 2018, one at Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada and one at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska, Raptors ended up belly up on the runway. That same year another one of the fighters suffered a catastrophic engine failure while flying out of Tyndall.
If the photo now circulating on social media does show the F-22 involved in this latest mishap, it thankfully does not appear to be a total loss. The Air Force only has a total of around 185 of these stealthy jets, 125 or so of which are combat-coded at any given time. The remaining jets are tasked with training or test and evaluation duties. Many of these jets would require extensive upgrades to make them as capable as their combat-coded counterparts
Still, even a nose gear failure can lead to damage that is expensive and time-consuming to fix on these jets due to their specialized skin coatings, heavy use of specialized composite materials, and complex internal structures, all of which help them maintain their stealthy signatures. The cost to repair an F-22 involved in another incident in 2012 in which the jet went skidding along the runway at Tyndall was eventually pegged at $35 million.
Hopefully, the damage to this particular aircraft will turn out to be less severe.