Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) has announced that the Heron TP, it's largest and most advanced unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), recently set a new technological and operational record flying at an altitude of 40,000 ft, for a substantial period of time.
According to IAI the Heron reached this altitude in less than one hour of flight.
The Heron TP, also dubbed the Heron 2 or ''Eitan'', by its Israeli Air Force (IAF) designation - is designed to fly at high altitude on missions spanning over several days.
Powered by a powerful 1,200 hp turbo-prop engine, the 4.6 ton UAV can operate at 45,000 feet, that is, above commercial air traffic, with a one-ton payload. This enables it to carry sensors that can provide a detailed view of the ground, even from that great height.
Using on board fuel and power resources, Heron TP is able to sustain continuous missions for over 36 hours with full mission payload. The aircraft is also equipped with deicing systems protecting the aircraft when flying through icing conditions.
Apart from long range, long endurance Intelligence, Surveillance and Target Acquisition Reconnaissance (ISTAR) missions, the Eitan is designed to execute a large variety of operational missions, including aerial refueling and strategic missile defense.
Its endurance level of 36 hours makes it a competitor for the US MQ-9 Reaper (or Predator B).
The Heron family of UAVs have been in service for longer than the Predators, and can boast of a comparable track record.
Eitan made its maiden flight Friday, 15 July 2006 in Israel.
India, Canada and some European nations are the most likely customers of the Heron TP, which can also be fielded for maritime patrol. It can also be positioned as a low cost competitor to the Global Hawk, whose vast range becomes superfluous for the maritime needs of most nations.
Reportedly some Herons are already in service with the Indian Army, and some more are on order.