IAI’s Heron TP Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAS

Maiden flight of the Heron TP took place on 14 July 2006 and the system became fully operational in 2010 and is currently operated by the Israeli Air Force. This has recently been selected by Germany for their SAATEG MALE UAV requirement, and other countries are showing significant interest in acquiring the Heron TP as well. 

Lessons learned from the Heron TP’s operational use in Afghanistan indicate that future RPAS must be a weapons capable platform, wherein that capability is for expeditionary operations. According to various sources, the Heron TP is very adept and battle proven in this capability. In addition to serving the Armed Forces, the Heron TP UAS could also support various government departments by providing wide area surveillance and ‘target of interest’ tracking that will significantly enhance existing capabilities provided by manned aircraft and satellite systems. 

IAI has a very long heritage for UAS development and is world renowned for developing aircraft based on operational experience and real-world combat operations in which the State of Israel is constantly engaged. The company has imbibed lessons from their Heron UAS to develop the larger, more capable Heron TP which delivers greatly enhanced performance, endurance and payload capability. The Heron TP has been flying under the Israeli Air Force Flight Authority for the past 12 years and is fully compliant with NATO STANAG 4671 regulation. With recent announcement of long term lease of Heron TPs to Germany, IAIs partner, Airbus (under contract to the German Government) will conduct a complete and independent airworthiness type certification for the Heron TP on behalf of the German Military Airworthiness Authority. Ron Keret, Deputy General Manager of IAI’s MALAT Division, said that the Heron TP UAS is designed to the standard of manned aircraft with redundant control surfaces and flight controls. As he explained, “The same engineers that design civilian aircraft, designed the Heron TP to manned standards. Triple redundancy of the platform was built into the aircraft to facilitate flight safety and for certification to operate in non-segregated airspace. 

The Heron descirbed

 With a length of 14 metres, wingspan of 26 metres and maximum takeoff weight of 5,670 kg, the Heron TP is the largest unmanned aerial system operating with the Israeli Air Force. The aircraft has a distinctive twin-tail boom which provides control surface redundancy and extra surface area to facilitate the mounting of numerous antennae across both booms. This configuration reduces signal interference and allows for multiple simultaneous uses, while leaving the fuselage and wings clear for mission payloads. The multi-mission Heron TP has the capacity for 2,700 kg of internal and external stowage for payloads and fuel and has 12 hardpoints spread across the centre fuselage and nacelles. These hardpoints can be fitted with a standard BRU rack, which can accommodate numerous payloads and special kits like the Survival Kit, Air Droppable (SKAD) pod. All mission and sensor data will be transmitted to the GCS (Ground Control Station) and other authorised secure users in real time via dual-redundant SATCOM or Line-Of-Sight data links. 

The Heron TP has an endurance of over 30 hours in mission configuration and over 35 hours in ferry configuration. It can operate at altitudes up to 45,000 ft. at speeds up to 220 ktas. The system comes with a state-of-the-art Ground Control Station where operators can perform all mission functions which includes programming flight path of the UAV and controlling the various sensor operations. The GCS is mission-centric and consists of two wide-aspect screens which can be configured to suit the operator and the mission profile, and with a keyboard and joystick to slew onboard sensors.  

The Heron TP is powered by a 1200 shaft horsepower Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6-67A turboprop engine, and is capable of speeds, climb rates, and altitudes which are unique in the MALE UAV category, thus making it ideal for long operations and for high/hot/ heavy conditions.

Control of the Heron TP is via GCS which transmits signals using satellite or line-of-sight link. Within the GCS are bays (operator stations) that control the UAV. Two bays are adequate to control a UAV, its systems/payloads, and provide redundancy. The GCS can also be scaled up with more bays as is necessary. One of the benefits of having nearly 50 years of lessons-learned experience with UAVs is the level of automation that IAI has developed. For example, taxi, takeoff and landing of the Heron TP is fully automated, carried out from the GCS which feeds GPS coordinates along with knowledge of airfields. Most UAV operations require a forward located Launch and Recovery Element (LRE) to operate the platform away from home base. The Heron TP UAS, however, does not need an LRE as it can use its satellite data-link command and control capability to land and re-launch from remote operating strips without the requirement of on-site specialised equipment. 

The Heron TP  is capable of Automatic Taxi, Take Off, and Landing (ATTOL), thus there is no requirement to preposition personnel at remote landing sites.