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NOAA Conducts First Ship-Based Unmanned Aircraft Mission

By By Woodrow Bellamy III  | May 15, 2013
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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) conducted its first ship-based unmanned aircraft system (UAS) mission with AeroVironment's Puma UAS. 
(A Puma Unmanned Aircraft is launched off NOAA ship Nancy Foster. Photo, courtesy of NOAA.)
NOAA conducted five flights with the Puma, as the agency looked to test the unmanned aircraft's ability to monitor "national marine sanctuaries." The flights were conducted in April on NOAA's ship Nancy Foster at Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Georgia. 
"This particular mission was both a test and a significant milestone in our efforts to transition Puma UAS into operations for routine application in support of the National Marine Sanctuaries and other marine monitoring tasks," said Robbie Hood, program director for NOAA's UAS program.
The agency has carried out seven similar demonstrations since 2009 to routinely evaluate small UAS platforms and payloads. The demonstrations are helping to develop operational protocols that will be exported to various NOAA programs and missions, including monitoring of marine animals, supporting law enforcement activities and oil spill response. 
(Image captured by Puma UAS. Photo, courtesy of NOAA.)
Previous demonstrations were carried out on smaller NOAA vessels, while the Gray Reef demonstration was the first operational test aboard an NOAA ship.
AeroVironment's Puma is a good fit, according to NOAA, because it has the ability to land safely in salt water. Future Puma work will focus on the mapping of ecosystems and coastlines.
"UAS have the potential to efficiently and safely bridge critical information gaps in hard-to-reach regions of the Earth such as the Arctic and remote ocean areas, and advance the understanding of key processes in Earth systems," said Hood. "NOAA is partnering with other civilian agencies, industry and the academic community to develop UAS that can be safely deployed, both nationally and internationally, to fill observation data gaps with increased efficiency and decreased risk to personnel."
NOAA has upcoming UAS missions featuring the Puma at the Channel Island and Olympic Coast national marine sanctuaries in June.

Related: Unmanned Systems News

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