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The Drone Index: IAI Super Heron

May 4, 2014

Israeli IAI Super Heron UAV

One of the highlights during this year’s Singapore Air Show was the Super Heron, the latest unmanned system from Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI).

The Super Heron, sometimes referred to as Super Heron HF (heavy fuel), is an upgraded version of its predecessor, the Heron. Conceived as a medium altitude long endurance (MALE) aircraft, the three existing Heron classes vary in size, range, and payloads, with each tailored for a mission’s performance requirements.

The single propeller-driven Super Heron is a middleweight, a 360-degree improvement over the original Heron but nimbler than the large Heron TP. Like its siblings, the Super Heron uses a twin-boom design ideal for reconnaissance and loitering above an area.

According to published specifications, the Super Heron is 27 feet long with a wingspan of 55 ft. Its flight ceiling is in the 30,000 ft range, higher than the first generation of RQ-1 Predators from General Atomics.

As its product name indicates, the Super Heron is powered by a 200 hp heavy fuel engine allowing it to reach speeds of 172 mi/h. During a mission, however, its ideal speed is between 70 to 90 mi/h. Since the value of most UAVs is in remaining airborne for long periods, the Super Heron can fly continuously for up to 45 hours and deploy 1,000 km or 621 miles away from its operators.

On paper, the Super Heron is capable of lifting a payload equivalent to its own weight–a little bit under a ton. Although not designed to carry weapons the Super Heron’s wings have four hard points and the fuselage supports six different sensors depending on the mission. Another distinction of the Super Heron is its retractable landing gear for automatic take off and landing. To date, it has no international customers.

The Super Heron’s manufacturer IAI is a government-owned aerospace conglomerate that’s eager to sell its diverse military portfolio abroad. Ever since the ascension of its current CEO Joseph Weiss in 2012, the vertically integrated IAI was steered to focus on emerging markets rather than its traditional client, Israel. This strategy has proven successful. Today, 80% of IAI’s business, which spans avionics, missiles, and spy satellites, is coming from foreign buyers.