The Heron Remotely Piloted Unmanned Aircraft System provides commanders with real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information.
Remotely piloted aircraft can conduct long endurance flights, staying airborne for longer than a traditional manned aircraft, and are operated by qualified pilots from a ground station. Operational staff then analyse and disseminate the information gathered. The operational staff may include aircrew, intelligence staff, operations officers, engineering staff, administration officers and logisticians.
The two Herons, mainly located at RAAF Base Woomera, ensure RAAF personnel maintain the skills required to operate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) until the introduction of the MQ-4C Triton.
The Heron 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, the 1.1 tonne Heron is operated from an airfield runway in conjunction with other manned aircraft.
To ensure the safe and effective operation of the aircraft, 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 since August 2009. The Heron pilot is supported by a Payload (Sensor) Operator who also acts as co-pilot for the Heron.
Remotely Piloted Aircraft and Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS)
A Remotely Piloted Aircraft is the actual aircraft, which is flown by qualified pilots from a ground control station.
The Unmanned Aircraft 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.