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Israel unveils drone that can reach Iran

Israeli soldiers were dwarfed standing next to one of the new Heron TP surveillance drones, which have a wingspan of 86 feet and can fly at least 20 consecutive hours. Israeli soldiers were dwarfed standing next to one of the new Heron TP surveillance drones, which have a wingspan of 86 feet and can fly at least 20 consecutive hours. (Jonathan Nackstrand/ AFP/ Getty Images)
Associated Press / February 22, 2010

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TEL NOF AIR FORCE BASE, Israel - Israel’s air force introduced a fleet of huge pilotless planes yesterday that can remain in the air for almost a day and could fly as far as the Persian Gulf, putting rival Iran within its range.

The Heron TP drones have a wingspan of 86 feet, making them the largest unmanned aircraft in Israel’s military. The planes can fly at least 20 consecutive hours and are primarily used for surveillance and carrying diverse payloads.

At the fleet’s inauguration ceremony at an air base in central Israel, the drone dwarfed an F-15 fighter jet parked beside it. The unmanned plane resembles its predecessor, the Heron, but can fly higher, reaching an altitude of more than 40,000 feet, and remain in the air longer.

“With the inauguration of the Heron TP, we are realizing the air force’s dream,’’ said Brigadier General Amikam Norkin, commander of the base that will operate the drones.

“The Heron TP is a technological and operational breakthrough.’’

The commander of Israel’s air force, Major General Ido Nehushtan, said the aircraft “has the potential to be able to conduct new missions down the line as they become relevant.’’

Israel’s military refused to say how large the new fleet is or whether the planes were designed for use against Iran, but stressed it was versatile and could adapt to new missions.

The plane’s maker, state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries, said it is capable of reaching the Persian Gulf, which would put Iran within its range.