Israel’s Elbit unveils civilian UAV that can fly alongside commercial jets
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Switzerland to begin using the drone next year

Israel’s Elbit unveils civilian UAV that can fly alongside commercial jets

The Hermes 900 StarLiner adheres to European standards for domestic flights so it can gather intelligence for internal security missions, manufacturer says

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

An Elbit Systems Ltd. Hermes 900 StarLiner drone, capable of flying in domestic, civilian airspace alongside commercial jets. (Elbit Systems Ltd.)
An Elbit Systems Ltd. Hermes 900 StarLiner drone, capable of flying in domestic, civilian airspace alongside commercial jets. (Elbit Systems Ltd.)

The Israeli Elbit defense contractor on Thursday unveiled a new civilian version of its Hermes 900 drone that can be flown alongside manned airplanes, the company said.

The StarLiner, as the unmanned aerial vehicle is known, is meant to allow governments and security agencies to collect intelligence domestically, in areas where drones currently cannot fly.

The manufacturer, Elbit Systems Ltd., said the model was created in light of requests by countries around the world for drones that can help thwart domestic terror attacks, like those caused by the Islamic State terrorist group in recent years, and not just for missions abroad.

“This change led to an increase in demand for advanced, matured UAV systems with the ability to be integrated safely into civilian airspace, which can operate in that area with manned civilian airplanes, and can provide the necessary intelligence capabilities to carry out complicated internal security and border security missions,” the company said in a statement.

Most currently available UAVs lack the necessary sensors to operate in these areas without interfering with other aircraft. As a result, many countries have laws forbidding such drones from flying in civilian airspaces.

When the Hermes 900 was used to provide additional security during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, for instance, the rest of the airspace where it was operating had to be cleared of traffic.

For now, the StarLiner system will be marketed to Europe, where it should be able to legally fly. Switzerland has already purchased the drone and is expected to begin using it next year, Elbit said.

“Elbit Systems led a wide-ranging, multi-year research and development effort focused on planning and manufacturing a matured UAV platform that is fully in line with the regulatory requirements to operate in a domestic-civilian airspace in Europe,” the company said.

The StarLiner is compliant with the standards of NATO, according to Elbit.

The defense contractor said those standards required them to install a host of systems on the Hermes 900 that it had not needed before, including sensors to identify other aircraft and avoid collisions with them, additional warning system to prevent it from approaching or crashing into the ground, autonomous takeoff and landing systems in no-visibility conditions, and others.

“The technological advances in the deicing systems allow the plane to operate in no-visibility meteorological conditions, as its heavier fuel improves its climbing and flight speed and extends the amount of time it can spend in the air,” Elbit said.

The StarLiner can operate at a similar altitude to many commercial jets, approximately 30,000 feet.

The company’s announcement on Thursday came a few days before the system is due to be displayed at next week’s Farnborough Airshow, outside London.

Over the past year it has undergone a series of tests inside Israel, including flights over the Masada National Park in the south in recent days, with permission from the Israeli Aviation Authority, Elbit said.

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