When scouting enemy positions, coalition forces rarely have the luxury of a proper air strip with which to land an unmanned aircraft. That's why California's AeroVironment corporation has designed one to land just about anywhere—water hazards and sand traps be damned.
The Puma AE (All Environment) is an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) designed as an Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) platform built for the rigors of both land and sea-based operation. That is, the Puma AE can land it's 13 pound frame either in tight city streets or onto a water surface if the mission dictates, even after a near-vertical "deep stall" final approach. An onboard GPS unit guarantees that it will land within 25 meters of a predetermined landing target.
Five feet long with a 9.2-foot wingspan, the Puma AE is launched by hand. It's powered by a small battery pack that allows it two hours of flight time and a 10,000 foot operational ceiling though it normally only flies 500-1000 feet off the ground. Each Puma System is made up of a trio of air vehicles and a pair of ground-based control systems, each with a comm range of 20 km. To do its spying, the Puma AE utilises a lightweight mechanical gimbal carrying an electro-optical (EO) and infrared (IR) camera with an 860 nanometer laser illuminator.
"The Puma AE system continues to provide critical force protection and force multiplication capabilities to our military at a fraction of the cost of larger manned and unmanned aircraft systems," said Tom Herring, AeroVironment senior vice president and general manager of its Unmanned Aircraft Systems business segment, in a press statement. "Our small unmanned systems are ideal as they give small tactical units eyes in the sky surveillance and intelligence over a broad area."