German Air Force Starts Flight Testing New Heron ISR Drone

The German Heron TP drone completed its official maiden flight in German airspace over northern Germany on May 15, 2024. (Image: German Armed Forces)

The German Air Force has started a six month flight testing program with its new German Heron Turboprop (TP) drone, according to recent updates published by Airbus  and the Bundeswehr  — German Armed Forces.

Heron TP is an armed reconnaissance drone developed as part of a joint venture between Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), Israel’s Ministry of Defense’s Directorate of Defense Research and Development (DDR&D), and Airbus. Germany's lead defense agency first signed a contract to procure a fleet of Heron TP drones in June 2018, to be operated as a "Medium Altitude Long Endurance Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (MALE RPAS)" in support of the German Armed Forces and allied forces. Heron TP is an upgraded version of the Heron 1, which the German Air Force has been operating since 2010.

According to the update on the Heron TP flight testing program released by the Bundeswehr, the Heron TP is equipped with a propeller drive and is controlled by two pilots from the ground. It is the first drone that the German Air Force will operate with a full German airworthiness certificate.

Part of the flight testing program will be an evaluation of its ability to fly unmanned in civilian airspace with commercial and military aircraft. Heron TP is capable of staying in the air for up to 27 hours.

“With the German Heron TP, we are building on the success of our close cooperation with Israel Aerospace Industries and the German Armed Forces on the Heron 1. This RPAS has been vital for the safety of German troops and populations in Afghanistan and Mali, while also having supported humanitarian missions," Head of Air Power at Airbus Defence and Space, Jean-Brice Dumont said in a statement. "The Heron TP will continue in this tradition and guarantee an unmanned system with outstanding performance and operational readiness, which could also provide additional capabilities for the German Armed Forces in the future due to its modularity, such as maritime surveillance capabilities.”

Airbus describes the Heron TP as being equipped with optical and imaging radar reconnaissance capabilities, "while providing options for additional SIGINT (signals intelligence) as well as maritime surveillance capabilities."

The Bundeswehr released additional details about how the Heron TP will be operating as well, noting that the drone's operations will be monitored by air traffic controllers while it is airborne. If the connection between Heron TP and its ground station is lost, controllers will continue monitoring its pre-programmed behavior.

The German Heron TP gets airborne during its first flight test in German airspace. Airbus is leading a six-month flight testing campaign of the Heron TP in German airspace right now. (Image: Airbus)

The German Air Force is procuring up to six Heron TP drones and associated ground station equipment. For the six-month demonstration operation in Germany, the aircraft and support services will be provided by Airbus DS Airborne Solutions GmbH.

"It has been specially modified to meet the Bundeswehr's operational needs, hence the name German Heron TP. Until the Eurodrone is introduced in 2030, it will assume the ability to reconnoiter, monitor and support forces on the ground and at sea," the Bundeswehr notes.’