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MILITARY TECHNOLOGY (MILTECH) is the world's leading international tri-service defence monthly magazine in the English language. MILITARY TECHNOLOGY is "Required Reading for Defence Professionals". Follow us on Twitter: MILTECH1

03 May 2016

Xponential 2016: AeroVironment PUMA AE Breaking Ice

AeroVironment’s small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are literally going to the ends of the earth to perform missions that only a few years ago would have been impossible. In a development that took the life-saving capabilities of its UAS to one of the most remote and unforgiving regions on earth, AeroVironment recently teamed up with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to provide the US Coast Guard ice breaker POLAR STAR with a RQ-20A PUMA AE (All Environment) UAS and a flight crew for the annual joint Operation "Deep Freeze," the military component of the larger, civilian-managed US Antarctic programme to re-supply the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station.

Kevin Vollbrecht, an engineering development technician with AeroVironment, launches a PUMA AE UAS from the flight deck of Coast Guard Cutter POLAR STAR during Operation "Deep Freeze" 2016 in the Southern Ocean 3 January 2016. (Photo: USCG/Petty Officer 2nd Class Grant DeVuyst)

The Operation "Deep Freeze" joint team departed Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, on 30 December 2015 and reached McMurdo Station 18 January 2016. During the expedition, AeroVironment’s PUMA AE delivered vital advanced scouting intelligence to help POLAR STAR conduct ice-breaking operations in the treacherous waters of the Ross Sea more safely and efficiently without putting pilots and costly helicopters at risk.

Operation Deep Freeze is one of the U.S. military’s most complex peacetime missions due to the harsh Antarctic environment,” said Kirk Flittie, AeroVironment Vice President and General Manager of its Unmanned Aircraft Systems business segment. “AeroVironment’s PUMA AE is delivering vital advanced scouting intelligence to help the Coast Guard’s Polar Star conduct ice-breaking operations in the treacherous waters of the Ross Sea more safely and efficiently without putting pilots and costly helicopters at risk.”

Puma is lightweight, easy to pack and deploy, and can operate off any ship without modifying the vessel. During Operation "Deep Freeze," AeroVironment personnel are employing its new Autonomous Recovery System to capture PUMA in a portable net on its return to the ship. PUMA also can be recovered from the sea as a result of its waterproof design. The PUMA AE weighs 13.5lbs., operates for more than 210 minutes, typically at a range of up to 15km, and delivers live, streaming color and infrared video as well as laser illumination from its pan-tilt-zoom MANTIS i25 AE gimbaled payload. Launched by hand and capable of landing on the ground or in fresh or salt water, the PUMA AE provides portability and flexibility for infantry, commercial, littoral or maritime operations.