Israel Aerospace Industries unveiled a new unmanned air system at the Singapore Airshow, inaugurating a new class that it calls the “super-tactical” UAS. The Super Heron is some 50% larger than the basic Heron or the General Atomics Predator in order to carry a high-performance multi-sensor suite on long-endurance missions. The UAS has completed its flight tests, IAI says, and is “a fully operational system.”

The Super Heron has a 3,200-lb. takeoff weight and 17-meter (56-ft.) wingspan, with winglets for improved lift and efficiency and a longer fuselage. The aircraft shown in Singapore was the Heavy Fuel Engine variant, with a 200-hp heavy-fuel engine from Diesel Jet, an Italian start-up that is developing aircraft diesel engines based on Fiat automotive engines, but a gasoline engine is an option. The greater power (versus the 115-hp Rotax of the basic Heron) boosts rate of climb and cruise speed, to 150 kt from 110, despite the increase in size. IAI says its endurance is 45 hr. at 30,000 ft.

Internally, a very important change is a new dual-computer architecture with separate processors and networks. One is used for mission equipment and the other for vehicle management and flight control, and they are partitioned. Similar to the approach taken by Saab for the JAS 39E, this is expected to make it easier to install new sensors and functions and to upgrade the mission system, because there is little or no impact on flight-critical control and navigation functions.

The aircraft was shown with a multi-sensor suite including the new 19-in. M-19HD electro-optical turret, synthetic aperture radar and a wide range of passive electronic sensors. The M-19HD has optics comparable to the largest manned-aircraft sensors and includes high-definition daytime video and infrared channels.

The Super Heron is being offered with either a synthetic aperture radar for overland reconnaissance or a maritime search radar. The extensive signals intelligence/communications intelligence suite includes a high-frequency direction-finding (HF/DF) system, which IAI says is unique in this class of aircraft. IAI notes that the twin-boom layout makes it easier to install antennas far apart, increasing DF accuracy.

Another innovation is that the communications payload includes both satcom and line-of-sight (LOS) antennas on the same gimbal. The LOS channel—which could communicate with the ground or with a relay aircraft—is intended for covert communications and transmits a narrow beam with low side lobes, reducing the risk of detection or interception.

The Super Heron system includes new land-based and shipboard ground-control stations, with automated switching from land to ship control. IAI says the Super Heron will be priced comparably to its competitors but stresses that a very important element in life-cycle cost is reliability: Losing a vehicle to an accident is very expensive. Based on 200,000 operational flight hours with the Heron, IAI says, the Super Heron's mean time between losses is expected to be similar to that of a light manned aircraft.