IAI's Heron UAV becomes first in world to land at international airport

The drone flew to and from Ben Gurion Airport while navigating civilian airspace 

Photos: Alon Ron

The Heron UAV, which was developed and built by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), landed Wednesday at Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport, becoming the first drone ever to navigate commercial airspace and land at an international airport alongside commercial flights. The UAV took off from Ein Shemer airfield, landed at Ben Gurion, and flew back to Ein Shemer. The takeoffs, flights, and landings were all conducted from the Ein Shemer control station.

According to IAI, the historic landing proves the maturity and safety of the company's Long Runner operating system, which allows UAVs to take off and land automatically on long-haul routes of 1,500 km or more using satellite communications technology and a combination of accurate takeoff and automatic landing capability.

The Heron has an extensive operational record and has been in use by the Israeli, German, and other nations’ air forces. It is designed to carry out long-range strategic and tactical missions. The drone can withstand severe weather conditions, carry multiple payloads, and transmit real-time information to the forces and decisionmakers in the field. It can carry up to 290 kg of cargo and can be used for a range of civilian purposes as well, IAI said.

Moshe Levy, IAI EVP and General Manager of the Military Aircraft Group, said, “IAI's Heron UAV made a significant breakthrough today, landing for the first time at an international airport. The future of the world of aviation will need to allow unmanned aerial vehicles to land at civilian airports, and today this happened for the first time thanks to the hard and joint work of the Civil Aviation Authority of Israel and the Israel Airports Authority. This is a great achievement for IAI in the UAV arena.”