Warplanes: Heron II


February 20, 2020: Israel has developed a new version of its original 2005 Heron UAV. Heron II is a bit larger (wider fuselage), heavier (1.35 tons) and can fly higher (11,000 meters/35,000 feet) and longer (45 hours) carrying a heavier payload (470 kg) at a faster speed (252 kilometers an hour). The new engine enables the Heron II to climb 50 percent faster. Heron II comes with satellite communications as standard equipment as well as much improved electronics. The flight control systems are kept separate from the navigation and mission control systems. This allows the user to modify navigation and mission control systems without modifying the flight control system. This means the Heron II does not have to go through the flight certification process again as required whenever flight control systems are changed. There is also a powerful computer, with larger data capacity so it can be used for analyzing sensor data onboard. This means only processed data is transmitted back to the operator via the satellite link, where you pay for the amount of data sent back and forth and there are sometimes restrictions on how much data that link can handle. Very large quantities of data also take longer to transmit. With the introduction of Heron II the original Heron I will no longer be produced.

The Heron I was very successful because it was similar to the American MQ-1 Predator and cheaper as well. In 2014 there was a major upgrade called Super Heron. This consisted mainly of a more powerful (200 HP versus 115 HP) engine that increased cruising speed to 210 kilometers an hour, a faster climb rate and greater maneuverability. Super Heron had a larger payload of 450 kg (990 pounds) and could stay in the air for 45 hours. Because of this Super Heron was sold as a strategic surveillance UAV because it could carry more sensors, fly higher, longer and farther. Super Heron was better able to fly along the borders of another country and monitor what was going on more than a hundred kilometers deep in foreign territory. While performing maritime surveillance Super Heron could monitor a larger ocean area from that higher altitude and spend more time over water.

The Heron 1, because it was so similar to the Predator, has sold well to twenty foreign customers, many of whom could not obtain the MQ-1. In addition to being one of the primary UAVs for the Israeli armed forces, others like India, Turkey, Russia, France, Brazil, El Salvador, the United States, Canada, and Australia have either bought, leased, or license manufactured the Heron I. Around the time Heron I was introduced, demand for the MQ-1 skyrocketed and few were available for export. Heron filled the gap. In the last few years Heron I has been largely replaced in Israeli Air Force service by the larger Heron TP as well as the Hermes 450 and 900.

The original Heron 1 weighs about the same (1.2 tons) as the Predator and has similar endurance (25 hours). Heron 1 has a slightly higher ceiling (10 kilometers/30,000 feet, versus 8 kilometers) than Predator and software which allows it to automatically take off, carry out a mission, and land automatically. Not all American large UAVs can do this. Heron 1 cost about $5 million each although the Israelis were willing to be more flexible on price. Heron 1 does have a larger wingspan (16.5 meters/51 feet) than the Predator (13.2 meters/41 feet) and a payload of about 137 kg (300 pounds). In the U.S. Predator was replaced by the much larger Reaper. The U.S. Army keeps the Predator design going by continuing to use a slightly larger Predator called the MQ-1C Gray Eagle.




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