Israel’s Elbit Systems has announced the introduction of a unique lifesaving capability to its Hermes 900 maritime patrol unmanned aircraft system (UAS). To configure the UAS for long-range search and rescue missions, the aircraft has been outfitted with onboard inflated life rafts, precision dispatch capacity, and integrated identification capabilities.
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Adverse weather conditions and short endurance significantly impact on the search and rescue capabilities of manned aircraft. According to Elbit, the Hermes 900 is well-equipped to deal with such conditions; the aircraft is durable, operates well in adverse weather, and is capable of more than 24 hours of continuous flight.
The Hermes 900 can carry up to four, six-person life-rafts that are integrated on its wings. Using an onboard maritime radar, the UAS detects possible rescue situations. Upon detection, the UAS’ electro-optic/infra-red (EO/IR) payload is deployed to provide visual identification, and a rapid calculation of the drop-point is performed, enabling the UAS to dispatch life rafts from a low altitude of 200 metres to a location safely distanced from the survivors.
Elbit’s UK subsidiary was already planning to demonstrate the Hermes 900, alongside the hand-launched Skylark platform, to the country’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) off the west coast of Wales this August. According to UK chief executive Martin Fausset, the company has “briefed” the agency on the new life raft capability, and plans to carry out the testing in order to assess the feasibility of using UAVs to support search and rescue missions.
In order to demonstrate the Hermes as a viable asset to British authorities, the Hermes will have to pass muster with the UK's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). According to Fausset, the fact that the UAS has flown as a civil aircraft in Iceland, Portugal and Switzerland boosts its case.
“Putting a large drone into civil airspace is a big step, but we are working with the MCA and CAA and our knowledge and experience from operating in other countries is very relevant,” he said.
The Israeli Air Force has operated the Hermes 900 medium altitude long endurance UAS since 2015, and the aircraft has also selected by numerous customers including Switzerland, the UK, Brazil, Mexico, and Chile, the EU and the UN.
The company reported that one undisclosed customer in south-east Asia recently purchased and received a reconfigured lifesaving Hermes 900 UAS.