Unmanned Aircraft Makes USCG Icebreaker Landing

By George Backwell
Thursday, August 28, 2014
UAS takes to the air: Photo USCG

Coast Guard and National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration researchers report the successful landing of an unmanned aircraft system on the flight deck of Coast Guard Cutter 'Healy', marking the first time a UAS has completed a take-off and landing aboard a Coast Guard icebreaker.

UAS operators from AeroVironment, designers of the Puma All Environment UAS, working alongside researchers from the Coast Guard Research and Development Center and NOAA made necessary adjustments following several unsuccessful attempts to land the Puma AE on the icebreaker’s flight deck.

High winds, heavy fog, and icing conditions delayed further attempts until Monday night when skies cleared enough for another attempt. UAS operators came close to landing the system on the initial attempt before managing three successful landings. The last was a perfect landing onto the center of the flight deck.

Researchers and crew aboard the Healy left Seward, Alaska, Aug. 8 to conduct testing of the Puma AE and other technologies for use as oil spill tracking tools. The UAS is equipped with an electro-optical and infrared camera plus illuminator on a lightweight mechanical gimbaled payload allowing its operator to keep constant watch over the device’s target.

The Coast Guard RDC and NOAA hope to utilize UAS and other unmanned technologies to perform monitoring and search operations in the Arctic and other areas where hazardous conditions might otherwise place human observers in increased danger.

“The Coast Guard and its partners realize the value of exploring technologies like UAS to improve our ability to respond in the Arctic,” said Rich Hansen, RDC Chief Scientist traveling aboard Healy.

“Unmanned systems have great potential for tracking spills, so responders can avoid unnecessary risk while safeguarding our seas.”

The Coast Guard Research and Development Center is based in New London, Conn., and aids the Coast Guard by providing research and evaluations of technologies and equipment with the potential for enhancing its ability to carry out its missions.

Coast Guard Cutter Healy is a 420-foot icebreaker homeported in Seattle, Wash. The icebreaker’s crew conducts the Coast Guard’s traditional missions including search and rescue, environmental protection and enforcement of laws and treaties while performing their primary mission of assisting with scientific research in polar regions.
 
Pictured: John Ferguson, an Unmanned Aircraft System operator for AeroVironment, releases a Puma All Environment UAS from the deck of the Coast Guard Cutter Healy

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