The Israel Air Force (IAF) received this week the medium-altitude, long endurance Heron Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) system developed and produced by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). The Heron UAV (IAF designation “Shoval”) has already been operational with the IAF through since the 2006 conflict in Lebanon, when an IAI owned Heron was employed by joint IAI / IAF teams throughout the conflict. Its performance, endurance, payload capacity and multi-sensor carrying capability introduce new potential for the multi-task usage of UAVs. Heron is the largest and heaviest of the IAF’s UAV fleet, capable of carrying the largest payloads, introducing more flexible payload mix, compared to other UAVs in IAF service.
The Heron can fly at an altitude of 30,000 feet, and has an endurance of over 40 hours. It can carry and operate a number of payloads and sensors simultaneously. Powered by a quiet engine Heron uses redundant systems, providing very high mission reliability.
The UAV has a wingspan of 16.6 meters, a maximum takeoff weight of 1200 kg, a mission radius of hundreds of kilometers, and a capability of flying under any weather conditions. The Heron incorporates fully automatic launch, flight and recovery capabilities. During test flights it demonstrated mission endurance of 52 hours with maximum fuel load; on standard missions Heron can perform missions of up to 35 hours endurance, carrying a full assembly of multiple mission payloads.
The IAF is also expected to field a larger strategic UAV platform known as Heron II in the coming months. The IAF is also evaluate options to provide aerial refueling for long-endurance systems such as Heron and Heron II, utilizing manned or unmanned platforms.