Puma UAS Succeeds in Landing on Coast Guard Icebreaker

 - September 2, 2014, 4:09 PM
AeroVironment's John Ferguson launches a Puma AE from the icebreaker Healy during an exercise in the Arctic Ocean. (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard)

Operators for the first time successfully launched and recovered a small unmanned aircraft system (UAS) from a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker, the service said. They achieved the feat on August 18, launching an AeroVironment Puma AE from the flight deck of the Coast Guard cutter Healy, under way in the Arctic Ocean.

An AeroVironment crew, working with researchers from the Coast Guard and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), made several unsuccessful attempts to land the 13.5-pound aircraft and were delayed by high winds, heavy fog and icing conditions before succeeding, the service said. A video shows the hand-launched Puma flying a circular pattern before dropping to the deck, where its wing detached as designed.

The Healy, a 420-foot icebreaker based in Seattle, departed from Seward, Alaska, on August 8 to test the sensor-equipped Puma AE and other technologies for use in oil-spill tracking. The Coast Guard and NOAA both have an interest in using unmanned aircraft to perform monitoring and search operations in remote waters. “The Coast Guard and its partners realize the value of exploring technologies such as UAS to improve our ability to respond in the Arctic,” said Rich Hansen, chief scientist with the service’s research and development center. “Unmanned systems have great potential for tracking spills, so responders can avoid unnecessary risk while safeguarding our seas.”

The Coast Guard has also evaluated Insitu’s ScanEagle UAS for its requirement to equip eight planned Legend-class National Security Cutters with a persistent surveillance capability beginning in Fiscal Year 2017. In May last year the service used the ScanEagle, which is deployed by a pneumatic wedge catapult launcher, to help stop a cocaine smuggling operation in the eastern Pacific Ocean—another first.