Air Force again grounds drone fleet after aircraft damaged during takeoff

Heron 1 drone taken to be repaired; accident, the third in four months, apparently unrelated to issue that caused November crash

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Illustrative: An IAI Heron 1 is seen flying off Israel's coast in early August 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)
Illustrative: An IAI Heron 1 is seen flying off Israel's coast in early August 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israeli Air Force on Saturday grounded a fleet of armed drones after one aircraft was damaged during takeoff earlier in the day, the military said.

It was the third time in four months that the IAF had grounded the fleet of IAI Heron 1 drones, known in the military as the Shoval.

“A Shoval drone was damaged during takeoff earlier this morning. There were no injuries and the incident will be investigated,” the military said in a statement.

“The commander of the Air Force, Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar, ordered that the Shoval fleet be grounded until the end of the investigation of the incident,” it added.

A military source said the craft that was damaged was taken to be repaired.

In November, a Heron 1 crashed near the southern city of Arad, causing a fire and leading to the grounding of the entire fleet for a month, until repairs were made to a faulty flight control component that had apparently caused the crash.

File: The scene of the crash of an armed military drone in southern Israel, November 9, 2022. (Courtesy)

The cause of the incident Saturday did not appear to be the same issue that caused the November crash, the military source said.

The Heron 1 has seen several crashes due to various malfunctions, including in September, when one crashed into the sea along Israel’s maritime border with Lebanon and was retrieved by the Navy.

The Air Force briefly grounded the fleet following that crash too.

Until recently, talk of Israel’s armed drones was barred from publication by the Military Censor. For years the Israel Defense Forces would not confirm it uses armed drones, and Israeli journalists who attempted to report on it came up against the IDF censor.

The IDF says that drones make up about 80% of the total operational flight hours in the Air Force. Israel has not disclosed how many attack drones it has.

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