Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) has patented a new capability for its Heron UAVs under which it can automatically land in runways located thousands of kilometers away, serviced and fueled before it takes off for an additional mission.
Based on satellite communication, combined with precise automated taxiing, takeoff and landing, the innovative capability, constitutes a major breakthrough in the remote operation concept, an IAI statement said.
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. In this way, the technology saves flight time and fuel, increases the operational availability in the mission area and provides several options for routine and emergency landing.
The new capability was tried successfully in May 2017, followed by a demonstration for the customer 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 refueled it. The UAV then took off for another mission and after a few more mission hours ending with automatic landing in 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 control station in central Israel.
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.
Shaul Shahar, IAI EVP and General Manager of IAI's Military Aircraft Group, said, "This is a technological and operational quantum leap that protects Heron's global leadership position."