Coast Guard icebreaker launches, lands first Arctic drone

Chris Thompson and John Ferguson, Unmanned Aircraft System operators for AeroVironment, celebrate after successfully landing a Puma All Environment UAS onto the flight deck of the Coast Guard Cutter Healy during an exercise in the Arctic Aug. 18, 2014. The UAS’ wings are designed to dislodge upon landing as a precaution against impact damage. (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Shawn Eggert)

John Ferguson and Chris Thompson, Unmanned Aircraft System operators for AeroVironment, release a Puma All Environment UAS from the flight deck of the Coast Guard Cutter Healy during an exercise in the Arctic Aug. 18, 2014. The Coast Guard Research and Development Center and the National Oceanic and Atmospherc Administration evaluated the UAS for use in tracking a simulated oil spill during the exercise. (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Shawn Eggert)

Chris Thompson, an Unmanned Aircraft System operator for AeroVironment, directs a Puma All Environment UAS into a net mounted to the Coast Guard Cutter Healy during an exercise in the Arctic Aug. 23, 2014. Researchers from the Coast Guard Research and Development Center, based in the New London, Conn., and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration deployed the UAS to test its capabilities in the Arctic. (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Shawn Eggert)

John Ferguson, an Unmanned Aircraft System operator for AeroVironment, releases a Puma All Environment UAS from the deck of the Coast Guard Cutter Healy during an exercise in the Arctic Aug. 23, 2014. The Puma is a small UAS designed for land and maritime operations. (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Shawn Eggert)

The U.S. Coast Guard has launched and successfully landed an unmanned aircraft—popularly known as a drone—from an ice breaker trawling the Arctic Ocean.

The drone launch and landing—the first of its kind from an icebreaker, Coast Guard officials say—took place Aug. 18 on the deck of the Coast Guard Cutter Healy, the same vessel that carved a path through the ice for a January 2012 winter fuel delivery to Nome.

The drone launch brought scientists at the Coast Guard Research and Development Center based in New London, Connecticut, together to work with researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA.

Operators with Aerovironment, designers of the drone, were on hand to pilot the machine, which looked like a miniature airplane.

The drone, a “Puma All Environment UAS,” or “unmanned aircraft system,” flew from the Healy’s bow as part of the Coast Guard’s “Oil in Ice” exercise, and as a test of the machine’s abilities in Arctic environments. Operators also used the drone’s infrared and electro-optical camera to provide video of the exercise’s simulated oil spill.

Last year scientists launched the Puma drone from the deck of the Healy, but this year the drone was able to land back on the vessel—albeit roughly. Video of the drone’s flight shows a hard landing back on the Healy, with the craft nosing down sharply and hitting the deck with enough force to break its wings off its body.