Heron TP: the crash, the investigation, the time factor

The Israeli air force’s Heron TP (or Eitan) strategic unmanned air system (UAS) crashed on 29 January during a test flight, minutes after taking off from an air force base in central Israel.

The investigation into the crash is currently at its initial stage.

The test flight was carried out jointly by the air force and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), the manufacturer of the aircraft.

A source close to the investigation said that, from first indications, the UAS crashed after it exceeded the limitations of its flight envelope.

The commander of the Israeli air force, Major General Ido Nehushtan, said that, according to the first findings of the investigation, one of the Heron TP’s wings broke in the air. Sources confirmed that new payloads were tested during the flight. It seems that this payload was some type of new navigation system, developed to allow the Eitan to perform very long-range missions.

The Heron TP is a MALE UAS, and is powered by a PWC PT-6 turboprop engine, with a maximum take-off weight of over 4 tons.

The composite fuselage is 13 metres (42.6 feet) long, designed to carry large-volume payloads, and the aircraft has a wingspan of 26 metres.

According to assessments, the Heron TP, which is designed for autonomous take-off and landing, has an endurance of over 70 hours and a ceiling of more than 45,000 feet.

The electrical supply system has been designed to enable the sustained operation of very advanced payloads.

In spite of the fact that the first Heron TPs were delivered to the air force almost three years ago, they are still considered to be in their “introduction period”.

When the air force purchases a system such as this, it starts on a long path aimed at using the platform to achieve the best possible performance. And with a large UAS like the Heron TP, which is called by some of its designers “the truck”, the performance or the flight envelope are stretched gradually, in parallel with new dedicated payloads that are also being developed.

The investigation will doubtlessly pinpoint the cause of the crash. There might be a very short delay in the “introduction phase”, but the programme will resume soon because the Heron TP is not just another UAS. It is defined as “strategic”, and the circumstances in the region do not give the air force the luxury of anything more than a short delay.

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