The AeroVironment RQ-20 Puma is a small, battery powered, American, hand-launched unmanned aircraft system produced by AeroVironment based in California. Primary mission is surveillance and intelligence gathering using an electro-optical and infrared camera.
Design and development
Previously selected for the United States Special Operations Command in 2008, in March 2012 the United States Army ordered the Puma All Environment (AE) and designated it the RQ-20A. In April, the United States Marine Corps and United States Air Force placed a similar order for the RQ-20A. Each military RQ-20A system has three air vehicles and two ground stations. The Puma AE can operate under extreme weather conditions including temperatures ranging from −20 to 120 °F (−29 to 49 °C), wind speeds up to 25 knots (29 mph; 46 km/h), and an inch of rain per hour.
On 26 July 2013, the Puma became one of the first unmanned aerial vehicles to be granted certification by the Federal Aviation Administration to fly in U.S. airspace for commercial purposes. AeroVironment expects one to be deployed to Alaska to support oil spill response crews and count wildlife. The Puma can safely accomplish observation missions in hazardous Arctic locations, which is safer, cheaper, and more environmentally friendly than using manned aircraft. Commercial certification was the result of previous military certification and the Congressionally-mandated opening of airspace over much of Alaska to small UAVs. The FAA also certified the Boeing Insitu ScanEagle, also planned to be deployed to Alaska. Only three individual Pumas were certified with strict requirements: only one aircraft of the type is allowed airborne at any one time, they cannot fly through clouds or icing conditions, and they cannot take off or land during certain gust and wind conditions. The certifications did not mention line-of-sight control.
On 8 June 2014, the Puma AE made its first flight for BP in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, making it the first authorized unmanned commercial flight over land.
The UK tested ISR packages compatible with the Puma AE on board the M80 Stiletto trials ship in November 2014 under Capability Demonstration 15-1.
On 20 January 2016, a number of RQ-20 were captured by the Turkish army from the PKK. It is suspected that the Kurdish militants were able acquire these drones from their Syrian affiliates.
In August 2016, AeroVironment announced the U.S. Navy had tested and deployed the RQ-20B Puma aboard a Flight I Guided Missile Destroyer, which included the company’s Precision Recovery System to autonomously recover the aircraft aboard a ship. The Puma is also being utilized on Navy patrol craft in the Persian Gulf.
- RQ-20A Puma: Military designation for the Puma All Environment variant.
- Enhanced Puma: Upgrade of the RQ-20A Puma AE with more powerful propulsion system and new batteries that increase endurance by 75 percent to 3.5 hours, auxiliary payload bay to integrate payloads while keeping the video camera, precision navigation system with secondary GPS, and a redesigned durable fuselage with reinforced construction and improved aerodynamics. Available in early 2014.
- Solar Puma: Puma AE powered by ultra-thin solar cells that increases endurance to 9 hours. Production version planned for early 2014.
- RQ-20B: Block 2 Puma AE, includes a more powerful and lighter propulsion system, lighter and stronger airframe, long endurance battery, precision inertial navigation system an improved user interface, and the new, all environment Mantis i45 gimbal sensor suite.
- LRTA Puma: Puma AE upgraded with a long-range tracking antenna (LRTA) that extends range to 60 kilometers (37.28 miles). Available Spring 2018.
- Puma LE (Long Endurance): Puma with expanded battery-operated endurance to 5.5 hours, revealed in May 2019.
||4 ft 7 in (1.4 m)|
|Wigspan||9 ft 2 in (2.8 m)|
|Maximum weight||13 lb (5.9 kg)|
||52 mph (83 km/h, 45 kn)|
|Cruising speed at sea level
|Range||9.3 mi (15 km, 8.1 nmi)|
|Ceiling in service
- Belgian Army – Leased from the US Army in 2017.
- Egyptian Army – RQ-20B Puma AE II UAVs, delivery to be completed by 2020.
- Estonian Army – Unknown number of RQ20B Puma AE II UAVs purchased in September 2018. Delivery to be expected by March 2019.
- German Navy – 3 RQ-20B Puma AE II systems in service.
- Latvian Army – 3 RQ-20A Puma systems
- UK Royal Navy
- United States