“Elbit covers the tactical side of the spectrum, from the diminutive Skylark to the Hermes series,” claimed Eli Yitzhaki, the company’s vice president, business development and marketing. But while the Hermes 450 provides the backbone of Israel defense force UAV operations, the Skylark mini-UAV is showing great promise during development trials undertaken by the Israeli Army.
Selected two years ago following a competition against seven other competitors, the Skylark has yet to enter full-rate production, although an initial batch has been supplied to soldiers in the field. In the intervening years, a number of refinements have been introduced but the Skylark has been shown to cater for the emerging needs of counterterrorism units.
For example, when it becomes necessary to distinguish between an innocent civilian repairing his vehicle and a terrorist burying a landmine by the road, the company-developed gyro-stabilized sensor pack carried by the Skylark includes the facility to zoom to the scene and provide a clear answer.
Yitzhaki told Aviation International News that the Skylark man-machine interface is based on Hermes software embedded into a laptop-sized ground control station. Both the hand-launched Skylark and the catapult-launched Hermes 450 have been designed for autonomous operation in which the crew can concentrate on controlling the sensors rather than ‘flying’ the UAV.
“We have trained soldiers to operate the Skylark in a mere three days,” said Yitzhaki, explaining that a quickly loaded digital map includes all references to natural and man-made hazards. The mini-UAV is recovered using a deep stall and airbag to protect the payload from damage and this has proved to be reliable, even over rough and rocky terrain.
“Integrating the payload with the platform has been an objective right from the beginning,” Yitzhaki noted but a modular approach to the Skylark payload design enables a soldier to change sensors quickly and without need of tools. Using a remote video terminal, a soldier can hand over control from one station to another and indeed as an example of the commonality between the Hermes 450 and Skylark, it is possible to access inputs from the former’s sensors.
Boosted by the selection of the Hermes 450 for the UK Army’s Watchkeeper program, interest in this particular model has grown, although for reasons of security, clearance to export the system is largely limited to NATO countries. Therefore it is not trying to sell the system to any developing countries
But as the number in service in approved countries increases, it is realized that a see-and-be-seen capability will be required by civil certification authorities. The Hermes 450 has full redundancy to achieve a high level of reliability and moreover, with a 330-pound payload capability, it could carry any device developed to permit operation in controlled airspace.
However, other models within the Hermes series have considerable potential Yitzhaki claims, noting that the Hermes 1500 medium-altitude long-endurance, multimission UAV can accommodate “anything that the P-3 can carry,” including an advanced signals intelligence package. If the traffic avoidance problem can be solved, it is envisioned that the Hermes 1500 would become a very cost-effective maritime reconnaissance platform.