Dominating IAI’s exhibit area here at Le Bourget is the Heron TP, a turboprop-powered medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) UAV. It is the first public showing of this craft, whose 85-foot wingspan nearly rivals that of an ATR 72 airliner, which is five times heavier. Heron TP is the latest and largest of a long line of UAVs developed by IAI’s Malat Division.
It is displayed next to the smaller, piston-powered Heron 1 with which it shares a twin-boom layout, and other smaller stablemates. The Heron 1 is in service with the Israel defense force and forms the basis of the EADS Eagle 1 flying as France’s interim MALE.
Heron TP is powered by a 1,200-hp turboprop. The twin booms accommodate the main undercarriage when retracted, providing the UAV with a “clean belly” design that maximizes the size of the payload bay in the central fuselage. The booms themselves also provide capacity for sensor carriage. A typical mission payload for the Heron TP is 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds), which can be carried to 45,000 feet where the Heron TP can operate clear of commercial airways. Endurance is 33 hours.
The vehicle’s mission and flight systems–both triple-redundant–are completely independent of each other, unlike other current UAV models. This greatly eases the integration of sensor systems, as they can be added or changed without affecting any of the flight control software.
The Heron TP was developed to an Israeli MoD requirement, although funding for production has yet to be finalized. The first example flew on July 14 last year, by coincidence the first day of the war in Lebanon. Three more have been built and flown, and IAI has now racked up a considerable number of hours. The initial test campaign was concluded earlier than expected due to the excellent results.
IAI stresses that the first batch is full-scale development aircraft rather than pure prototypes, and that the type is ready to enter production as soon as Israeli military budgets allow.
It is also being offered for export and has been linked with the Dassault/Thales joint UAV venture as a likely platform for a proposal to a French MALE requirement.