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FAA approves AT&T’s COW drone for Puerto Rico

The FAA approved AT&T’s “Cell on Wings” drone, we reported on here, for use in Puerto Rico. The drone is a Pulse Vapor 55 that can operate as a flying cell tower and quickly restore cellular phone service in disaster-stricken areas. AT&T calls their drone the Flying COW for Cell on Wings. It was developed by AT&T to fly up to 200 feet above the ground and can provide voice, data and Internet service for 40 square miles.

AT&T’s COW drone in action

The Flying COW is a Pulse Vapor drone and resembles a small helicopter. The drone is fitted with LTE radios and antennas en is tethered to ground-based electronics and power systems. The unmanned aerial vehicle exceeds the FAA weight limit of 55 Lbs required to operate under the small drone rule. The FAA issued a special exemption and an emergency certificate of authorization for AT&T to fly the drone in Puerto Rico and re-establish service. The drone is a temporary solution while AT&T is rebuilding its network on the island.

AT&T said to NPR that this week marked the first time that a drone with an LTE cell site had been successfully deployed to connect residents after a disaster.

Two months after Hurricane Maria hit the Carribean islands, only 63% of the cell towers are operational. As of last Thursday, 80% of Puerto Rico’s cell phone customers have been connected, according to AT&T.

The COW drone explained

In a video, Art Pregler, AT&T’s director of the company’s drone program, explains that the drone is specifically developed for fast deployment during a disaster recovery scenario. A flying COW can provide cell phone coverage for up to 80,000 people simultaneously. Currently, AT&T only has one flying COW drone but is testing additional model for future use.

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Avatar for Haye Kesteloo Haye Kesteloo

Haye Kesteloo is the Editor in Chief and Main Writer at DroneDJ, where he covers all drone related news and writes product reviews. He also contributes to the other sites in the 9to5Mac group such as; 9to5Mac, 9to5Google, 9to5Toys and Electrek. Haye can be reached at or @hayekesteloo