The Heron Remotely Piloted Aircraft provides high resolution intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability with real-time support to ground commanders to enhance force protection in the Middle East Area of Operations.
On average, the Heron flies between 400 to 500 hours each month of medium altitude, long endurance flights. It can conduct single missions in excess of 24 hours, with a maximum speed of more than 100 knots (180 km/h) at altitudes of up to 10,000 metres.
Unlike small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), the 1.1 tonne Heron Remotely Piloted Aircraft is operated from an airfield runway in conjunction with other manned aircraft. The Australian Heron is based at Kandahar, which is anecdotally the busiest single-runway airfield in the world.
To ensure the safe and effective operation of the aircraft at such a busy airfield, Air Force uses military pilots who have experience with the complex and dynamic airspace to pilot the Heron.
Pilots qualified on Army helicopters, F/A-18 Hornets, F-111s, AP-3C Orion and C-130J Hercules have deployed and operated the Heron Remotely Piloted Aircraft since August 2009. The Heron pilot is supported by a Payload (Sensor) Operator who also acts as co-pilot for the Heron.
In addition, up to seven operational staff process, analyse and disseminate information from the Heron’s sensors. The operational staff may include aircrew, intelligence staff, operations officers, engineering staff, administration officers and logisticians.
The Heron capability is also used at Woomera, South Australia, in controlled airspace for training purposes.
UAVs and UAS
A Remotely Piloted Aircraft or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle is the actual aircraft, which is flown by qualified pilots from a ground control station.
The Unmanned Aerial System is the entire system that supports the aircraft. The system includes the aircraft, the ground control station, communications systems, information analysis, maintenance, logistics and other support facilities.