According to a short report by AFP, Israel is developing a killer robot plane. This drone is designed for long-range operations -- more than 50 hours and several thousand miles -- while weighing 4 tons during takeoff. This unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV), dubbed Eitan (Steadfast) will have a wing span of 35 meters -- like a Boeing 737. And this long-endurance (HALE) drone is the largest unmanned aircraft designed by Israel. It should be tested in coming days, but details are scarce, and it might already have flied in 2006.
But let's go back two years ago to discover the genesis of this drone. Eitan will be built by Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. and is based on a previous drone, the Heron. In September 2005, the company was selected to supply Heron UAVs to Israel Air Force. It was also dubbed Machatz 1 and here were some of its characteristics at this time.
Machatz 1 will serve as a force multiplier to the Israel Air Force's operational capabilities. It has unique performance characteristics that include the ability to fly at an altitude of 30,000 feet and an endurance of over 40 hours, two major advantages over most other UAVs. Machatz 1 can carry multiple sensors such as maritime patrol radar, a synthetic aperture radar (SAR), COMINT and ELINT systems, etc. The system has automatic launch and recovery and all-weather capabilities.
In March 2006, Alon Ben-David, for Jane's Defence Weekly, confirmed that Israel was about to unveil its biggest Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle. And the short article added that "Eitan, which will be operated by both the Israel Air Force and Navy, has an operational endurance of 50 hours, a considerable wing-span of 26 metres and is reportedly capable of carrying a maximum payload of 1,800 kg."
A few months later, Defence Update confirmed the existence of the large drone in another brief article, saying that "Eitan made its maiden flight Friday, July 15, 2006 in Israel."
Since 2006, Eitan had grown larger, with a wing span of 35 meters -- or maybe 33.5 meters, according to Peter La Franchi, for Flight International, London, on January 8, 2007. La Franchi wrote that Eitan will have a span over 9m wider than originally forecast.
Israeli media reports are suggesting that Israel Aerospace Industries’ developmental Eitan high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) unmanned air vehicle will have a span of 33.5m (110ft) from tip to tip; some 9.1m longer than previously indicated.
This article adds that Eitan is not the largest drone ever built: it will be the world's sixth largest UAV in span terms. In other words, there are drones already larger than some Boeing commercial planes.
The largest UAV ever was the Aerovironment Helios, which had a span of 83.5m, with second place held by Boeing’s Boeing Condor, with a 60.9m span. Aerovironment’s Pathfinder Plus aircraft, now retired, also had a span of 36.9m. Northrop Grumman’s RQ-8B Global Hawk is the largest UAV currently in series production, with a span of 39.6m, while the RQ-4A version -- the last examples of which are now in final assembly -- has a span of 35.3m.
It's hard to imagine that some UAVs could be reliable when reaching these sizes...
Sources: AFP, via Ninemsn, Australia, January 8, 2007; and various other websites
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