March 7, 2008 AeroVironment (AV) has achieved a new long-duration flight record with its hand-launched Puma small unmanned air vehicle (SUAV). The fuel cell hybrid-powered Puma flew for over nine-hours eclipsing the previous record of seven hours set by the same craft in July 2007.
Demonstrating its low-altitude reconnaissance capabilities, the lightweight (12.5 pound) Puma relayed a streaming video feed via its two-camera payload system during the flight.
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The nine-hour milestone using the onboard fuel cell battery hybrid energy storage system is also more than triple what the Puma can achieve when running on battery power only. The Pulse™ UAV fuel cell system from AV research partner Protonex Technology Corporation recharges the battery and delivers steady-state power for the plane and payload during cruise flight and a lithium ion battery to provides peak power during takeoff and dash maneuvers .
This test flight is part of in AV’s Phase II small business innovation research (SBIR) contract with the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) for the development of advanced energy storage and propulsion technologies for unmanned aircraft.
“We are delighted with the performance of AV’s fuel cell hybrid-powered Puma,” said 1st Lt. Don Erickson of the Air Force Research Laboratory. “The joint AFRL, AV and Protonex team has done an outstanding job expanding the flight envelope of Puma through this research program. The successful extended duration capability demonstrated through this program has the potential to expand the utility of hand-launched UAS to address a variety of missions performed by operational units around the world.”
Providing a line-of-sight range up to 10 kilometers, Puma is the largest of AV’s portfolio of small unmanned aircraft systems - Raven, Dragon Eye, Pointer, Swift, Puma, and Wasp - all of which are designed for simple deployment and one-person launching and operation. Measuring just under 6 feet long with a wingspan of 8.5 feet, Puma operates at an altitude of between 100 and 500 ft and flies at speeds of 25–50 kmh. Raven and Wasp, Puma all share the same ground control system and are capable of autonomous flight and GPS navigation.
AV has delivered more than 8,000 small unmanned aircraft.