Puma miniature UAV lands on water and ground for Special Forces applications

By John McHale

PARIS, 20 June 2009. Officials from AeroVironment were showcasing their Puma AE (all environment) miniature unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) at the Paris Air Show this week. The hand-launched UAV uses custom electro-optics to track targets.

There is no other UAV like it that can land in multiple environments and carry an electro-optic payload nearly equal to that of a much larger UAV, says Stayne Hoff, director of international business development AeroVironment in Simi Valley, Calif. It is used by Special Forces personnel such as the Navy Seals, who just love it, he adds.

A current commander in the field uses the Puma in conjunction with a Boeing ScanEagle UAV, Hoff says. "He alternates them depending on the mission."

If the operational footprint is larger and he can employ more operators he will use the ScanEagle for its greater imaging capability, but if he needs to be flexible in tight spots and still get quality imagery he uses the Puma AE, Hoff explains.

The gimbal that contains the electro-optics was a custom AeroViornment design, Hoff says. "Nothing on the market was able to meet necessary requirements to for vibration and waterproofing in one package."

The 13-pound UAV carries an electro-optical and infrared camera on a lightweight mechanical gimbaled payload allowing the operator to keep 'eyes on target, according to a company data sheet.

Operators view the imagery from the Puma via a Panasonic Toughbook computer, Hoff says. AV Tracker software from AeroVironment uses super stabilization and mosaicing tools to keep the image the operators see stable and clear, he continues. It has the quality of an image from a Predator, Hoff adds.

Using something the U.S. military calls "cursor on target" cuts out human error when providing targeting information, Hoff says. An operator simply clicks on the target and relevant position data is automatically sent to a weapons system for target destruction, he continues.

Hoff notes that this capability is only within U.S. military networks.

According to the AeroVironment datasheet on the Puma the air vehicle's modular design allows for alternative payload development to meet the needs of specific military or civilian applications.

The current battery life of the UAV is 2 hours, but company designers are looking to introduce a 4-hour battery in about a year, Hoff says. He also notes that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is working on a prototype fuel cell that will provide 7 hours of battery life. However, that is years away, Hoff adds.

The Puma AE system is quiet to avoid detection and operate autonomously – via a controller on the ground – providing intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and targeting data (ISRT). "It operates in any environment a man can see in," says one AeroVironment designer in the Puma Video running at the company's booth at the Air Show.

The UAV has a communications range of about 9.3 miles. The company's common ground control system provides Puma AE users compatibility with AeroVironment's Raven and Wasp miniature UAV platforms.

The Puma AE has an operating altitude of 500 feet a range of 15 kilometers, according to the company data sheet. The system, which has a wing span of 9.2 feet, also does not require auxiliary equipment for launch or recovery operations.

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