Prototype small solar UAS achieves 9-hour flight time

In July, AeroVironment’s Puma AE became one of the first two small unmanned aircraft systems to receive approval from the Federal Aviation Administration for commercial missions. At AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems conference earlier today, the company shared a new milestone, reporting that an in-development solar-powered version of the Puma AE lasted more than nine hours during a test flight.

AeroVironment worked with California-based Alta Devices on the development of the solar Puma AE, which features AeroVironment’s newest long-endurance battery. The battery extends Puma AE’s non-solar endurance to more than three hours.

Roy Minson, AeroVironment senior vice president and general manager for UAS, said in a statement that the increased flight time brings the Puma AE’s capabilities nearer to those of the next class of UAS at a lower acquisition and operating cost and with greater operational flexibility. Previous solar solutions for small UAS, he said, were too heavy, did not produce enough power, or both.

Alta Devices utilizes a proprietary technology to manufacture very thin, high efficiency solar cells using gallium arsenide. Solar material like that used in the development of the solar Puma AE incorporates a thin, mobile power technology on a flexible substrate that has been independently certified by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory for multiple efficiency records.

The solar Puma AE configuration currently is in the research and development phase with a production version planned for early 2014.

[ photo courtesy of AeroVironment ]