Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) this week announced the development of a breakthrough operational and technological capability for the family of Heron medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).
With the new capability, the Herons can automatically land in remote runways located thousands of miles away, where it is serviced by a small crew and basic fueling infrastructure before it takes off for an additional mission.
Based on satellite communication, combined with precise automated taxiing, takeoff and landing, this innovative, unprecedented capability constitutes a major breakthrough in the remote operation concept, offering maximum operational flexibility.
The new capability was tried successfully in May 2017, followed by a demonstration for customers in November 2017. During that demonstration, the Heron took off from an airport in central Israel, performed a several-hour mission and landed automatically on secondary runway in southern Israel where the Heron was received by a minimal crew that refuel it – and then the same Heron took off on several additional missions, eventually landing automatically at its home base.
The entire process, including the automated landing, taxiing on ground after landing, engine switching off and on, pre-takeoff taxiing and automated takeoff of the Heron, was fully controlled from a remote station in central Israel.
Filed as a new patent application in August 2017, the new capability saves on command stations and flying crew resources by eliminating the need to return to the original takeoff point for fueling. The technology saves flight time and fuel, increases operational availability in the mission area and provides several options for routine and emergency landing. With the new capability, Heron RPAS will be used in even more complicated and challenging missions.
The Heron has a long, successful operational record gained through years of serving dozens of customers around the world, including the Israeli Air Force, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Canada, Ecuador, Germany, Greece, India, Morocco, Singapore, South Korea, Turkey, and the United States.
The Heron is designed for prolonged strategic and tactical missions and is capable of flying in tough weather conditions, carry multiple sensors simultaneously and transmit real-time information to the forces in the field and the decision makers. To date, the Heron system has accumulated more than 300,000 flight hours around the globe.
Shaul Shahar, IAI EVP and General Manager of IAI’s Military Aircraft Group, said in a statement, “The breakthrough technological capability and the upgraded operation capability of the Heron uniquely respond to our clients’ need for high operational flexibility. It is expected to increase the number of markets we target. This is a technological and operational quantum leap that protects Heron’s global leadership position. We are proud in IAI’s ability to continually provide our clients with the world’s best capabilities.”