Archive for August 15, 2013

TECHNOLOGY: AeroVironment Tests Solar Powered Small UAV (UPDATE)

News from AUVSI 2013 (UPDATES with additional quotes and Insitu ScanEagle certification to fly in Arctic)

Unmanned air vehicle (UAV) maker AeroVironment has been making a lot of news lately.

The Monrovia, California-based company makes a line of small UAVs including the 13-pound RQ-20A Puma, the smaller RQ-11 Raven and the Wasp micro air vehicle (MAV). All three are man portable and launched by hand — almost like a paper airplane.

A Marine launches a Puma UAV by hand in Afghanistan. (Photo by Sgt. Bobby J. Yarbrough)

A Marine launches a Puma UAV by hand in Afghanistan. (Photo by Sgt. Bobby J. Yarbrough)

Your 4GWAR editor was interviewing David Heidel, AeroVironment’s business development manager, at this week’s robotics and unmanned systems conference in Washington when he brought up the company’s plans to make unmanned aircraft in India.

AeroVironment has signed an agreement to team up with Indian aerospace and automotive manufacturer, Dynamatic Technologies to make small UAVs. Potential customers include India’s Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Home Affairs.

“International is a target of ours. We had significant [international sales] growth at the end of last year. We’re in over 24 countries right now,”  Heidel said. “We see this as a big opportunity and a big step to form a teaming agreement with an organization to do local manufacturing,” he added during our interview at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

In a press release, Udayant Malhoutra, Dynamatic’s CEO and managing director said teaming with AeroVironment is strategic to our efforts to build capabilities in the Aerospace Segment.” He cited “the combination of AeroVironment’s technical capabilities and unmatched experience in unmanned aircraft systems and Dynamatic’s precision engineering capabilities.”

At AUVSI, we also discussed the big news of the week for small UAVs:  the test flight of a solar-powered Puma AE (All Environment) UAV, which stayed aloft for over nine hours. That’s more than four times the standard flight time of the battery-powered Puma AE.

Solar Puma launch in July. (AeroVironment photo)

Solar Puma launch in July. (AeroVironment photo)

On that project, AeroVironment is working with Alta Devices, a Sunnyvale, California manufacturer of thin, flexible solar cells. “It was a standard Puma platform with the solar technology of Alta integrated into the wings,” said Heidel. He said the flight test in July also included a new AeroVironment long endurance battery that extended the Puma’s normal two-hour flight to three hours and then the small UAV flew another six hours and 11 minutes using solar power. (Please click on the photo above to enlarge the image and get a better look at the solar panels on the Puma’s wings.)

In other AeroVironment news, the Army has ordered $13.5 million in Raven UAVs as well as spare parts. It was the fourth and final part of a 2012 contract valued at $59.6 million.

And AeroVironment has won certification from the FAA to fly the Puma AE as one of the few UAVs allowed to operate in the national airspace for commercial purposes. AeroVironment is expected to fly Pumas in the Arctic to monitor oil spill response.

We forgot to mention earlier that another UAV manufacturer, Insitu, also received FAA approval to fly its catapult-launched ScanEagle from a ship in Arctic waters. The larger and heavier (44 pounds) ScanEagle will be surveying ice floes and whale migration in areas of planned oil exploration, according to our friends at Aviation Week’s ARES blog.

August 15, 2013 at 11:55 pm Leave a comment


August 2013


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