“Flying Aircraft Carriers” to be the future of Aerial Warfare

“Gremlins”- a programme operated by DARPA (the Defense Department’s Advance Research Projects Agency), is apparently the moniker given to specific drones – that are inexpensive unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) featuring digital flight and navigation controls.

It is specifically made to be collected mid-mission by a transport aircraft that has been modified. Its potential uses include signal jamming, communication interception, and the search for and destruction of targets. Additionally, they might have explosives for kamikaze strikes.


The Defense Department plans to order roughly 1,000 of the Gremlins, which is expected to cost less than $800,000.

The US military intends to build an aerial aircraft carrier specifically for the Gremlins project in order to transport them. They could use a modified C-130 transport plane, which has bomb racks under its wings that can hold up to four drones. These drones would be deployed with the assistance of a small squadron. However, recovering them airborne after a mission seems to be challenging.

The Dynetics X-61 Gremlins

The Dynetics X-61 Gremlins is an unmanned aerial system that Dynetics is currently testing.


The X-61 was developed as part of the DARPA Gremlins initiative to show off a cheap, recoverable UAV with digital flight and navigation controls. After accomplishing its mission, it is designed to be collected in midair by a modified transport aircraft.

The Williams F107 turbofan engine powers the X-61A, which has a range of payload capabilities that include electro-optical sensors, infrared imagers, electronic warfare systems, and weaponry.

We Are The Mighty

Up to eight X-61As can be controlled simultaneously by a controller in the mothership or on the ground thanks to the semi-autonomous nature of the UAV.

As a result, the Gremlins project’s contractor, Dynetics, intends to create a specific recovery system that would be installed atop the C-130’s cargo ramp.

When a Gremlin flies back to the mothership, the cargo ramp opens and the recovery system lowers a boom out of it. This boom releases a pod on a ten-metre-long tether, and that pod clamps onto a short engagement arm which pops out of the top of the Gremlin itself. A successful capture shuts off the Gremlin’s engine. A winch then hoists the drone on board. This arrangement should be able to pull eight Gremlins an hour out of the air



CAPACITY 65.7 kg
LENGTH13 ft 9 in
WINGSPAN11 ft 5 in
POWERPLANT1 × Williams F107 turbofan engine
RANGE560 km

For a second test next summer, Dynetics is modifying its software. The testing will include Gremlins stacked with different payloads while they simulate different circumstances on the battlefield.

The modified aerial aircraft carrier and other aircraft will be able to interact with the Gremlins while in flight thanks to software being developed by DARPA for this purpose under the name “Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment.”

On January 17, 2020, the X-61A completed its first free flight. The main parachute did not open during the recovery after the successful takeoff, and the aircraft was lost. The remaining four aircraft are still operational.

A specially outfitted C-130 Hercules cargo plane successfully recovered an X-61A from mid-air in October 2021, according to a DARPA announcement.

It is intriguing to contemplate how current naval and aerial warfare would evolve if the Navy were to construct a fully operational airborne aircraft carrier.

SOURCE: SOFREP | Wikipedia

COVER: SOFREP | (The U.S. National Archives/picryl)