AeroVironment RQ-20 Puma Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS)
The AeroVironment RQ-20 Puma is a small-class surveillance UAV utilized in large numbers by the US military.
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The AeroVironment RQ-20 Puma is one of the many intelligence-gathering unmanned aircraft system (UAS) currently in service with the United States military. The aircraft achieved first flight in 2007 and was adopted by United States Special Operations COMmand (better known as "SOCOM") in 2008 through the All-Environment Capable Variant (AECV) program. The Puma continues frontline operational level service as of 2013, being fielded in conjunction with various elements of the United States including special forces. Use of this UAS has since branched to include the United States Army, Air Force and Marine Corps. Production of the type is now represented in over 1,000 units produced by California-based AeroVironment. In US nomenclature, the Puma has been assigned the designation of "RQ-20A".
Unlike other highly publicized UAVs such as Predator and Reaper, the Puma is given a very small and compact profile for maximum portability. Its primary mission directive is that of surveillance and intelligence gathering for the purpose of a planned response while onboard systems can also be used to acquire targets. Its full mission scope is recognized as "ISRT" ("Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Targeting"). The payload is modular in nature and can therefore be suited to customer requirements. The Puma design is entirely waterproof which protects vital systems such as the battery compartment, allowing the Puma to operate equally-effectively over water. Standard equipment includes a stabilized electro-optical (EO) and an infrared (IR) camera with infrared illuminator while the payload is gimbaled to provide 360-degree continuous panning. Power is served through a conventional engine spinning a two-bladed propeller unit mounted to the front of the fuselage. Its noise level is rather quiet, allowing the Puma to remain unnoticed to targets on the ground. Wings include a high-mounted main assembly with noticeable outboard dihedral and a traditional single-fin tail unit. The Puma is small enough to be managed by a single operator in the field with a second operator managing the Ground Control Station (GCS). Also unlike other larger UAV systems, the Puma is hand-launched with recovery accomplished through simple deep-stall landing. Being waterproof, the Puma can also land in water and be recovered as needed. The entire Puma system includes three aircraft and GCS units and no additional equipment is required.
The Puma features an overall length of 4 feet, 7 inches with a wingspan of 9 feet, 2 inches. Maximum take-off weight (MTOW) is listed at just 13 lbs. With its onboard propulsion system, the Puma can make 52 miles per hour out to a range of 9 miles. Flight time endurance is two hours. Despite these seemingly pedestrian specifications when compared to her larger brethren, the Puma is a budget-conscious alternative to the full-sized Predator and Reaper types. The Puma is also part of AeroVironment's established lineup of UAS vehicles that include the Raven and Wasp, both of these products being able to utilize the same provided GCS system.
Beyond the United States military, Denmark and Sweden added the RQ-20A system in June of 2012.