Israel Embraces ‘Faster, Cheaper, Smaller’
By David Fulghum
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology
Because the special-mission aircraft is built around a U.S. Gulfstream airframe, Israeli officials believe the design could be of interest to the U.S. as the Air Force replaces its much-larger C-135-based special-mission aircraft such as the E-3 AWACS and Joint Stars. Gen. Norton Schwartz, USAF chief of staff, says the service needs replacement aircraft the size of business jets and not the larger Boeing 737.
Dassault—the longtime manufacturer of France's high-performance fighters and strike aircraft—is negotiating with IAI to market the next-generation Heron TP to the French air force and European customers. The French are already operating IAI UAVs in Afghanistan, and France's military leaders are considering their UAV road map.
“We think Heron TP is one of the most capable unmanned aircraft in the world and that it can be certified to fly in France,” says Weiss. “The decision should come soon. Dassault is a leading aircraft manufacturer and very good partner. If you look strategically over the next 30 years, the role of manned aircraft will be declining and that of unmanned aircraft will be growing. So we think Dassault will be there because they are thinking strategically [about new markets].”
As for robotics, IAI's leaders believe it is an area that could be a more integrated and well-funded element of its product line. The Taxibot, which was shown at the Farnborough air show, is a semi-autonomous tractor for moving large aircraft quickly and efficiently around airfields. It is designed to improve safety and save aviation fuel as airliners wait in long queues before takeoff. Use of Taxibot also reduces wear and tear on aircraft landing gear.
“We're in the middle of testing,” says Weiss. “We're hoping this will be a bonanza for IAI and Airbus.”
Bankers Capital Transportation Leasing Group is planning to purchase dozens of narrowbody and widebody TaxiBot systems that will be operated in North America. A letter of intent regarding the $97 million deal was signed at Farnborough. It is the launch contract for providing TaxiBot services to airlines and airports. Delivery is planned for late 2013.