MONROVIA, Calif., March 6, 2008 – AeroVironment (AV) (NASDAQ:AVAV), a leader in unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and efficient electric energy systems, today announced that it has flown its Puma small unmanned aircraft for over nine hours, powered by an onboard fuel cell battery hybrid energy storage system. This broke the previous announced Puma flight record of over seven hours. A two-camera payload system provided a live, streaming video feed from the Puma, the largest of AV’s portfolio of small unmanned aircraft systems that also includes Raven and Wasp. The nine-hour flight duration more than triples the duration of Puma’s standard battery-only operation.
This successful demonstration marked a milestone 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. AV developed the battery pack, power electronics and controls portion of the hybrid energy storage system, which used Protonex Technology Corporation’s (LSE: AIM: PTX) Pulseâ„¢ UAV fuel cell system. Progress on this unique technology development program advanced swiftly from kickoff in January 2007, to achieve a five-hour flight in May 2007, a seven-hour flight in July 2007, and the recent nine-hour flight.
“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.”
“Our military customers rely upon our small UAS daily for real-time reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition,” said John Grabowsky, AV executive vice president and general manager of Unmanned Aircraft Systems. “This demonstration of long-duration flight from a hand-launched UAS highlights AV’s capabilities in developing and integrating efficient electric energy technologies. We believe that increasing endurance has the potential to extend the utility and concept of operations of our entire portfolio of unmanned aircraft into applications that require longer flight times.”
Each of AV’s production small UAS can be transported and set up with a minimal logistical footprint, launched and operated by one person, and is powered by a replaceable and rechargeable battery pack. Wasp, Raven and Puma wirelessly transmit live, streaming video and other information generated by their electro-optical or infrared sensor payloads, enabling their operators to view and capture images on a hand-held ground control unit. Their high degree of portability and flexibility enables these systems to provide tactical units with critical information when and where they need it, facilitating faster, safer movement through urban and rural environments. To date, AV has delivered more than 8,000 small unmanned aircraft.