Despite missing out on the prototyping contract phase of the US Army’s Future Tactical Unmanned Aerial System (FTUAS) programme – the effort to replace the Textron RQ-7 Shadow – AeroVironment is pitching a long-range variant of its hand-launched Puma for the service’s requirement.
The company is calling its new unmanned air vehicle offering the Puma LE (Long Endurance).
AeroVironment originally pitched for the FTUAS competition via a joint bid with Aerovel, a company that has a tail-sitting, vertical take-off and landing UAV. However, in March, it failed to move on to the next phase of the competition. Arcturus UAV, L3 Technologies, Martin UAV and Textron are now working to advance the capabilities of their offerings with development financed by the US Army.
AeroVironment is trying to nudge its way back into the competition by boosting the endurance of its Puma by 120%, to 5.5h. The company says range is also increased through a better battery, longer wing and improved electric motor.
“For the FTUAS opportunity, it could be one of the solutions – not the only solution that we offer,” says Wahid Nawabi, chief executive of AeroVironment. “We believe that our solution with Puma LE will meet the vast majority of the requirements in terms of its missions, and with a radically different price point, footprint, ease of operations, than any other Group Two [UAV] that's actually pursuing that opportunity.”
The Puma LE weighs 10.4kg (22.5lb) and could be carried by two people in two ruggedised Pelican cases, AeroVironment says. The manufacturer says it is already test-flying the UAV regularly.
AeroVironment says it is now accepting orders for the Puma LE, with deliveries expected to start “in spring 2020”.