By John McHale
PARIS–Officials from AeroVironment showcased the Puma AE (all environment) miniature unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) at the Paris Air Show earlier this summer. 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.
If the operational footprint is larger and the commander 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 AeroVironment design, Hoff says. “Nothing on the market was able to meet the necessary requirements 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. It has the quality of an image from a Predator, he 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.
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 two hours, but company designers are looking to introduce a four-hour battery in 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 seven hours of battery life.
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 an AeroVironment designer.
The UAV has a communications range of roughly 9.3 miles.