AeroVironment Inc. and a team from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are providing the U.S. Coast Guard ice breaker Polar Star with a RQ-20A Puma AE unmanned aircraft system (UAS) and a flight crew for the annual Operation Deep Freeze.
Operation Deep Freeze is the military component of the larger, civilian-managed U.S. Antarctic Program to re-supply the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station in the Antarctic.
AeroVironment received the contract from ADS Inc. on behalf of the Coast Guard and is collaborating with NOAA to provide the requested services.
The Puma AE weighs 13.5 lbs., operates for more than 210 minutes – typically at a range of up to 15 km – and delivers live, streaming color and infrared video, as well as laser illumination, from its pan-tilt-zoom Mantis i25 AE gimbaled payload. The UAS is launched by hand and is capable of landing on the ground or in fresh or salt water.
AeroVironment personnel are employing the UAS’ new autonomous recovery system to capture Puma in a portable net on its return to the ship.
“Operation Deep Freeze is one of the U.S. military’s most complex peacetime missions due to the harsh Antarctic environment,” explains Kirk Flittie, AeroVironment’s vice president and general manager of the UAS business segment. “AeroVironment’s Puma AE is delivering vital advanced scouting intelligence to help the Coast Guard’s Polar Star conduct ice-breaking operations in the treacherous waters of the Ross Sea more safely and efficiently without putting pilots and costly helicopters at risk.”
Flittie adds that updates, video and photography during the mission will be posted on AeroVironment’s Facebook page as connectivity permits.
Photo: The Coast Guard’s Polar Star icebreaker near Antarctica as viewed from the AeroVironment Puma UAS