On July 14th, 2015, NOAA's Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Program Office, working together with representatives of AeroVironment Inc., conducted a Search and Rescue Exercise, called Arctic Shield, in the waters north of Alaska to test the utility of integrating unmanned aircraft into a simulated response incident.
Working from from the deck of the US Coast Guard Cutter HEALY, the research team launched a small, unmanned aircraft, the AeroVironment Puma, to search for a simulated missing person stranded in the icy waters. Following the launch, the Puma used both its electro-optical and infrared cameras to locate the simulated victim, affectionately named Thermal Oscar, floating in a survival raft on the water approximately one nautical mile away from the ship.
The Puma was able to relay the coordinates to the test control center on board the HEALY, which then directed a Coast Guard H-60 and ERA Helicopter to the scene. Both helos deployed rescue swimmers to simulate recovery and then returned safely to shore. The exercise concluded with a successful net capture of the Puma UAS and a recovery of the survival raft by the HEALY.
Much of this mission was conducted under the auspices of a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) between NOAA and Aerovironment. The CRADA in this case is allowing NOAA and Aerovironment to jointly test UAS capabilities in a series of real-life mission-based scenarios. The results from these tests will be analysed by both NOAA and Aerovironment to improve NOAA's operational capabilities and Aerovironment's products.