The future of aerial warfare is clearly the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and the conflicts of the early 21st Century furthered defined their over-battlefield roles and value. As the years have advanced from the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, so too has the field of drone technology where, today, systems are being developed that surpass anything possible just a decade or so ago. As their tactical value increases, so too does global demand for aerial systems that will keep pilots and crew from harm's way - and with this technology comes a cost.
As such, the X-61 "Gremlins" by U.S.-based Dynetics is being designed, under the leadership of DARPA, as a low-cost, reusable drone system. The company was one of four concerns to be granted a development contract back in 2016 and was awarded the official winner in April of 2018. The base experimental model is designated as the "X-61A" and a fleet of five experimental vehicles were built for the program. A low-cost, logistically-friendly approach allows the vehicle to be built in number rapidly and use existing ground support and control systems already in use with the United States military.
The X-61 features an appearance not unlike a missile, with its rounded fuselage, rounded nosecone, low-mounted mainplanes, and an "X-type" tailplane arrangement. The propulsion scheme involves a Williams F107 non-afterburning turbofan engine for subsonic flight, offering 700lb of thrust output, which propels the vehicle to speeds nearing Mach 0.6 (460mph) with an operational range out to 300 nautical miles (345 miles). Dimensions include a running length of 13.8 feet, a wingspan of 11.4 feet, and a height of 1.7 feet. Gross weight reaches 1,500lb.
The X-61 is capable of carrying a payload consisting of various sensors and optics to cover the Intelligence-Surveillance-Reconnaissance (ISR) role while plans are being forged to have the system contribute in the Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) role as well (air-launched missiles and precision-guided drop weapons are assumed).
First flight of the X-61 system occurred in November of 2019 as the vessel was carried aboard its accompanying C-130A Hercules "mothership". In January of 2020, the aircraft completed its first untethered flight - though a failure of its recovery parachute meant a total loss of the prototype. Unlike other UAVs, the in-development X-61 is not wholly autonomous and utilizes input from a control operator stationed on the ground or on the mothership itself.
Work on the X-61 continues as of this writing (August 2020) and will be updated as appropriate.
August 2020 - Dynetics has flown the second X-61A prototype from an accompanying C-130 Hercules transport - the UAV able to remain in formation with its mothership. An aerial recovery test is tentatively scheduled before the end of 2020.
The "Military Factory" name and MilitaryFactory.com logo are registered ® U.S. trademarks protected by all applicable domestic and international intellectual property laws. All written content, illustrations, and photography are unique to this website (unless where indicated) and not for reuse/reproduction in any form. Material presented throughout this website is for historical and entertainment value only and should not to be construed as usable for hardware restoration, maintenance, or general operation. We do not sell any of the items showcased on this site. Please direct all other inquiries to militaryfactory AT gmail.com.
Part of a network of sites that includes GlobalFirepower, a data-driven property used in ranking the top military powers of the world and WDMMA.org, the World Directory of Modern Military Aircraft.