As Canada finalizes its preparation for the release of the Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) Request for Proposal (RFP), Team Artemis is stepping up. The IAI Heron TP, chosen by Germany and the platform of choice by L3Harris Canada for Canada’s RPAS program, is advancing through the German airworthiness certification process with compliance expected by mid-2021. Germany selected the Heron TP in 2018 in a competitive process and will take delivery of the first platform this summer. The German Heron TP marks a significant step forward in the evolution of Heron TP’s capabilities and will provide several enhancements ideally suited for Canadian RPAS requirements. Firstly, the addition of an anti-icing capability to allow operations in cold weather climates, and secondly, a Sense-And-Avoid (SAA) capability to support operation in civilian airspace.

Like Canada, Germany requires their next generation Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) RPAS to be fully certified under the NATO Standardized Agreement (STANAG) 4671 UAV airworthiness standards where the certification program is led by Airbus, under the German Military Aviation Authority (GMAA). In meeting STANAG 4671, the German certification program ensures the risk to the Canadian RPAS program is low and that Canada’s Initial Operating Capability (IOC) date can be easily achieved. IAI plans to deliver the first aircraft by mid-2021, in time for the scheduled induction of the Heron TP into operational service with the German Air Force.

IAI Heron TP
Photo: Israel Air Force

The Heron TP variant being offered to Canada is more capable and more powerful than the current Israeli variant. The aircraft is powered by the reliable Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 turboprop engine which has demonstrated high performance through extensive operations on other aircraft throughout Canada and in the Arctic. Furthermore, new Sense-And-Avoid features are integrated into this variant, adding new levels of safety when flying in open airspace. Able to operate at an altitude up to 45,000 ft, the Heron TP can safely fly above civilian air traffic. The higher operating altitude also increases its Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) area coverage by leveraging its powerful multi-spectral sensor array. As an open-standards ISR platform, the Heron TP can be integrated with other systems for best utilization with military, national, and coalition assets. An earlier Heron 1 variant’s interoperability was demonstrated by five NATO user nations, including Canada, during the Afghanistan War.

Through the past decade, the Heron TP proved itself in extensive operational service with the Israeli Air Force, flying tens of thousands of missions throughout the region. Based on three decades of development and accumulated operational experience, its technological maturation now provides automation and autonomy capabilities that enable operators an unsurpassed level of flexibility. These include the ability to fly missions completely autonomously, takeoff and land autonomously from degraded runway locations, and operate the aircraft from remote fields with minimal ground support. These autonomous capabilities significantly increase its operational flexibility for the Canadian RPAS program. Extending the Israeli Heron TP operational experience combined with that of the German Air Force and other user nations will provide a valuable user network for Canadian RPAS training, deployment and lessons learned.

The Heron TP’s design is ideal for operation in the most challenging Canadian environments. Flights in the far north and on the maritime coasts require robust, rugged aerial platforms to fly in high winds and inclement weather. The Heron TP, powered by the formidable PT6 1,200-shaft horsepower turboprop engine, has a superior rate of climb, allowing it to operate more reliably in and through inclement weather. Equally, the twin boom design of the Heron TP provides greater stability while transiting and operating in Canada’s adverse climate conditions. As a result of years of combat experience, the IAI engineers designed multi-level redundancy into the platform so there is no single point of failure.  All these features ensure high reliability that enhances mission readiness and operational availability for the RCAF.

The Heron TP is the most advanced, capable MALE platform in the market today. Its robust, operationally proven design, ideal for Canadian climate conditions in the arctic and maritime environments, combined with an extensive, NATO-interoperable ISR capability and Sense-And-Avoid technology assures that Canada and the RCAF will receive the best available RPAS for its mission needs. A Canadian Heron TP delivered by Team Artemis, led by L3Harris Canada, raises the bar for RPAS capability for RCAF operational missions and underpins Canada’s long-term development of a Remotely Piloted Systems and Autonomous Technologies industrial sector.

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