AeroVironment's long-endurance Puma
drone show puma

One of the limiting factors of small UAS -- the kind that civilians might use to inspect power lines, food crops, or infrastructure -- is endurance. Small fixed-wing UAS can often only get an hour (maybe two) of power.

So it's significant that Monrovia, Calif.-based AeroVironment's fixed-wing Puma AE recently logged a continuous flight lasting 9 hours and 11 minutes. The 13-pound, hand-launched Puma (to take off, the operator simply heaves it into the air like a football) also recently received a first-of-its-kind commercial flight certification from the Federal Aviation Administration, clearing it for commercial operation in the Arctic and, in a few years when national airspace regulations are settled, in the U.S.

Though currently experimental, the solar-cell-augmented Puma AE should be ready for production sometime next year, offering commercial companies and research groups working in the Arctic an affordable, long-endurance source of aerial imagery.

  @FortuneMagazine - Last updated August 20 2013 04:20 PM ET
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