Photo ofAeroVironment Puma reconnaissance drone being launched by hand. Courtesy of AeroVironment, Inc .
Hand launched UAVs are in wide and successful usage in the American armed forces including the Navy and Coast Guard. They have also met with success in many NATO naval applications. So Portugal was not trying to stretch any envelope in developing a hand launched drone for naval applications. You can also bet that before the press conference was set up the drone you will see in the linked video had successfully flown many times. We don't show this video in order to poke any fun at the Portuguese Navy which has our utmost respect, or to lampoon the particular acquisition program. These types of things happen in all navies and can be quite humorous in retrospect. The Portuguese program will rapidly recover from the incident, its drone program is based on sound technology and the utility of these UAVs is well proven. What we really liked about the linked article and video is in the written text , the statements before and after the failed demonstration by Portuguese defense minister Jose Pedro Aguiar-Branco are classics of humorous naval come back speech. His recovery from his pre-failure demonstration statement is a classic on the order of another story from American Inland Merchant Marine history that we are familiar with.
"From the late 1800s into the 1930s Lake Tahoe was serviced by a fleet of small excursion ferries shuttling tourists between points of interest on the lake which is federally regulated for navigation due to straddling the Nevada / California state line. Indeed the lake has a U.S. Coast Guard station on its shores today. Back then the ferries were operated by licensed pilots (U.S. Merchant Marine Officers) who had to know the lake's waters extremely well since there had been little formal charting . One pilot had some visitors to his pilot house including a number of young women during a transit between points of interest. One young lady asked the uniformed and gold braid bedecked pilot how well he had to know the lakes waters. He replied that he "knew every rock and shoal in the lake like the back of my hand". Those words were barely out of his mouth when the little lake ship ran aground. Without any change of expression, or visible alarm in his voice the pilot smiled at the young lady and said; "and there's one now."
We became instant fans of Minister Aguiar-Branco for his handling of the embarrassing demonstration. We think you will become such too. This was a very public but minor glitch, the technology works, is proven, and Portugal did not waste money on it. Not only was Minister Aguiar-Branco's statement humorous but it was also targeted and technically correct. We're sure that the unfortunate sailor selected to launch the UAV was relieved to hear it and did not suffer disproportionately for the error but is productively engaged in a post incident analysis of any necessary additional training needs or mechanical adjustments. Navies learn from mistakes , fortunately a few are bit comical. To watch the video and read the text click here: UAV FAIL