Unmanned Manhandling at AeroVironment

Big things come in small packages at AeroVironment (Nasdaq: AVAV  ) . The provider of small unmanned aircraft systems is soaring higher than its popular Raven systems after posting better-than-expected fiscal first-quarter results last night. Earnings per share doubled to $0.18, and revenue climbed 56% higher to hit $49.2 million.

Despite the healthy advances, AeroVironment is sticking to its guidance, calling for the company's top line to advance 20% to 25% this year.

It's ultimately a wonderful showing, and the order backlog of $61.7 million is encouraging. Too bad, bearish journalists: You'll just have to shelve those "Quoth the Raven: Nevermore!" headlines for a rainier day.

Let's talk about the company's Raven B. It's a lot smaller than you may think. Weighing in at just 4.2 pounds, the hand-launched aircraft is able to assist the military in reconnaissance, target acquisition, and damage assessment missions.

And if you think the Raven is small, you should check out the Wasp. At a quarter of the Raven's size, it may very well look like a toy as a soldier removes it from a backpack for deployment.

However, small robotics have been at the heart of the latest U.S. military contracts. Even iRobot (Nasdaq: IRBT  ) is working with Boeing (NYSE: BA  ) to introduce a lightweight unmanned ground vehicle that weighs in at just 30 pounds.

Companies like AeroVironment and iRobot may not be household names. When you think "military contractor," names like Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT  ) , Boeing, and Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC  ) are the ones that come to mind. Still, companies like iRobot and AeroVironment are important leaders in unmanned military equipment that is saving soldiers' lives by keeping them out of the line of fire.

AeroVironment may never have the consumer panache that iRobot has landed with its Roomba robotic vacuum cleaners, though I'm sure that remote-control junkies would love to play around with some of the lightweight flyers in AeroVironment's rough sack. Then again, who am I kidding? With financials like these, you don't have time to toy around.

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