The Israeli unmanned air vehicle industry is characterised by two major players – IAI and Elbit Systems – that manufacture mainly large systems with big price tags and by some smaller companies developing smaller systems. But this breakdown is not enough to survive in this very competitive market. Innovation is the keyword, and at this point one company, BlueBird, is standing out.

The company has been manufacturing the very successful SpyLite mini UAV that is in use in Israel and in a great number of countries.

The company realised that to compete, it needs a new design unique in performance and price.

Based on the successful aerodynamic design and power pack of the SpyLite, that brought its endurance to 4h, BlueBird recently unveiled its Thunder B, a tactical UAV with exceptional capabilities.

With a similar fuselage and wing design, the larger Thunder B has a 28kg maximum takeoff weight and 24h endurance.

The Thunder B is powered by a two-stroke 2.5hp core, W4 fuel injection engine enhanced with electronic systems and a muffler that reduces noise to a minimum.

"The capabilities of the Thunder B could be found until now only in larger, much more expensive systems with a max takeoff weight of above 180kg," says Ronen Nadir CEO of BlueBird.

The company says, with its long endurance (up to 24h), extended control range (up to 150km), advanced fuel-injected engine, smart and redundant avionics and a variety of payloads, the ThunderB is a perfect solution for customers who seek a platform for mission flexibility, cost effectiveness, high performance and reliability. The UAV is operated by a two- or three-man crew utilising the system's automatic launch by pneumatic launcher, and point recovery in the field by parachute, protected by an airbag.

The ThunderB supports a wide range of possible payloads including Controp T-STAMP (three-axis gyro-stabilised payload, with a cooled thermal imager, CCD and Laser Pointer), BlueBird's proprietary RGB, NIR and IR photogrammetric payloads, and others.

The company says the ThunderB enables the incorporation of dual payload capability, thus expending the operational envelope offered by much larger systems.

Nadir says the Thunder B's 18 redundant systems give it a record mean time between losses (MTBL). "We are talking about an MTBL of 2,000 flights and when your UAV carries a payload with a price tag of $50,000, this is a crucial factor."

The landing system – comprised of a parachute and large air bag – is also designed to protect the payload carried in the nose of the UAV "our recovery system reduces the g on the payload to around 15g while it can withstand 30gs," adds Nadir.

The Thunder B's design, according to Nadir, includes other features aimed at maintaining the system's high reliability. "In addition to the communication link used to send the data from the payloads to the ground, we added a special link for use in emergency, when the primary mission is to bring the systems safely to the ground," he adds.

The ThunderB is a good example of the effort made by small and medium sized Israeli UAV manufacturers. These companies understand that to successfully compete in the international market, they have to offer special features.