A Protonex fuel-cell-powered Aerovironment Puma All Environment (AE) unmanned air vehicle with a classified endurance is to fly within the next 12 months under a $3.3 million US Department of Defense contract.

The fuel cell is a Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) type and uses Protonex's chemical hydride fuel source. The 5.9kg (13lb), 2.8m (9.2ft) wingspan Puma AE is capable of land and maritime operations, with a water landing capability.

The AE has replaced the 5.4kg, 2.5m wingspan Puma. Both are normally battery powered. The AE has a larger mechanically gimballed electro-optical (EO) and infrared payload. Aerovironment says both versions have an endurance of about 2h and "speeds are roughly the same". The AE's top speed is 45kt (83km/h).

Aerovironment and Protonex achieved a fuel-cell-powered flight exceeding 9h using the original Puma in March 2008. Aerovironment says that the flight of over 9h " was for pure endurance, but it did carry its standard EO payload".

The new Puma has a range of up to 15km (8nm), limited by line-of-sight communications and variable according to topography and weather. The previous version's range was 10km, although all Aerovironment's UAVs can be handed off to a distant operator, extending the range.

Source: Flight International