Embraer reveals design work on Harpia UAV

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Embraer has revealed the first image of a new medium-altitude unmanned air vehicle (UAV) now under development and aimed for the Brazilian defence and security market - at least initially.

The twin-boomed aircraft is being developed by the Harpia joint venture formed in September between Embraer and Elbit Systems subsidiary AEL.

However, the Harpia UAV unveiled in an earnings presentation by Embraer in early November bears little resemblance to Elbit's Hermes 450, which was acquired by the Brazilian air force earlier this year.

 harpia

© Embraer

The Harpia UAV includes a twin-boomed tail connected to a highly-tapered, high-aspect ratio wing. A pusher, propeller-driven engine is shown on the aft end of a fuselage with a dolphin-shaped nose, which is likely designed to accommodate a beyond line-of-sight antenna.

Although Embraer released an image of the UAV, the company did not answer requests for performance and schedule data. But the image suggests the Harpias joint venture plans to exceed the performance of the Hermes 450 and perhaps compete with other medium-altitude surveillance aircraft, including the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Predator and Israel Aerospace Industries Heron.

For the immediate future, however, Embraer has no plans to market the Harpia UAV beyond Brazil and neighbouring countries, said Embraer chief executive Frederico Curado in a conference call with financial analysts.

"The focus is Brazil, in the country's armed forces and also, potentially, some police forces," Curado said, adding that "countries where Brazil may have some geopolitical influence" may also become customers.

The medium-altitude UAV project is another step in Embraer's emergence as a military aircraft designer.

Although founded by a privatised branch of the Brazilian air force's aeronautical research division, Embraer first gained worldwide attention in the 1990s with a series of popular regional jets. In the past decade, it has also become a major business jet manufacturer.

More recently, the company has re-targeted the defence sector for its next expansion. The launch of the KC-390 tanker/transport in April 2009 was the first big move. Nearly two years later, it also established the Embraer Defense and Security division. This was launched with the intention to develop UAVs, although no timetable was revealed for such a project.

The Brazilian military has increasingly focused on acquiring an unmanned surveillance capability for the Amazon and the country's maritime domains. In addition to operations with the Hermes 450, Brazil's Avibras is also testing the Falcao medium-altitude UAV.

The Harpia and Falcao are likely to play a major role if the Brazilian army decides to move forward with an Amazonian surveillance programme called SISFROM.