Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) has chosen the Singapore Airshow to reveal its latest UAV. The new Super Heron HF is a major update of the Heron 1 that has become a popular choice for medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned missions.
“The best just got better,” announced Joseph Weiss, IAI’s president and CEO, at yesterday’s ceremony to unveil the Super Heron HF in the show static display area, adjacent to IAI’s chalet (CD03). At first glance the most obvious new feature of the vehicle is its upturned wingtips, which have been adopted partly to offset the extra weight of other modifications. The most important update, however, and the main driver behind development of the Super Heron HF, is the adoption of a heavy-fuel (diesel) engine in place of the 115-hp Rotax 914 used by the original Heron.
Heavy-fuel engines offer a number of benefits to the user. Maintenance requirements are reduced, and the fuel offers significant commonality with many other battlefield systems. Primarily, though, it is a much safer liquid to transport in the support of field deployments.
IAI evaluated four different heavy-fuel engine types for the Super Heron before adopting a DieselJet FIAT engine from Italy that develops over 200 hp. The extra power compared to the original engine not only helps to overcome a rise in maximum takeoff weight from 1250 to 1450 kg, but increases maximum speed to more than 150 knots (up from 115), as well as improving rate of climb. At 30,000 feet and 45 hours, ceiling and endurance are the same as for the Heron 1.
Adopting a heavy-fuel engine was the main aim of the Super Heron HF program, which began in earnest around 18 months ago. However, as the project progressed the opportunity was taken to improve other areas of the vehicle, particularly its avionics systems. The Super Heron HF has triple-redundant avionics installed, and greatly expanded flexibility for new payloads and smarter interfaces. The aircraft on show here is displayed with an impressive array of sensors, including the MOSP3000-HD EO/IR turret with laser rangefinder/designator and ELM-2055D SAR/GMTI radar. Antennas and pods for various electronic warfare and intelligence-gathering systems are also represented.
First flight for the Super Heron HF occurred last October, and IAI states that the new version is now ready for production. It would take around two years or less to deliver a Super Heron from receipt of an order. Interest has already been received from customers new to the Heron family, and from existing Heron 1 operators, said the company.
Serving with more than 20 operators and having been built in “some hundreds,” the Heron 1 has notched up over 1.1 million flight hours. Around 200,000 of those hours have been on operations, including use by several nations operating in Afghanistan. Although the Heron 1 has been continuously improved over the years and remains a highly capable vehicle, the time had come for a major update.