Israel Developing Flying Elephants

According to a soon to be published article in the defensenews magazine, Israel has started working on a project known as “Flying Elephants”. The futuristic unmanned aircraft is said to be huge and slow, capable of self takeoff and landing even in unpaved airstrips and flying through high winds. Most importantly it will be able to carry and in some scenarios perform pin-point drops of supplies to troops up to one metric ton – something no existing unmanned aircraft is capable of doing.
Urbanaero AirMule during
early test flight (Credit: urbanaero)

The Flying Elephants is another project which received a boost after the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war, where Israeli troops found themselves only a few miles inside enemy territory but short on supplies. Aerial resupply was scarce and imprecise due to fear of enemy ground fire shooting down slow cargo planes and the lack of precise dropping methods.

Since 2006 Israel’s Defense Department Research & Development Directorate (known as Mafat) has been looking into different technologies allowing for pin-point resupply missions as well as medical evacuation missions. During the 2006 war many Israeli soldiers had to wait for hours until conditions allowed for piloted Blackhawks to take them to hospitals in Israel in fear of getting shoot down.
Since the war Israeli purchased GPS guided aerial resupply systems (US forces in Afghanistan received similar systems and have been using them to resupply with food, water and recently even medical supplies such as blood). However, the Israeli army still requires a way to drop these deliveries without risking slow piloted cargo planes (Israel is using mostly old Hercules cargo planes but has recently ordered several newer models).
Here comes the Flying Elephants concept. Israel’s Ministry of Defense working with Elbit Systems has initiated work on a unique multipurpose cargo drone capable of carrying about 1 metric ton of cargo while taking off and landing all on its own. Unlike some U.S. projects (see also this video) which focus on relatively small carrying capacity rotorcraft, the Flying Elephant should be able to carry more but do that for shorter distances (more relevant for Israel’s relatively short fighting distances).

The Flying Elephant project is currently in early stages of development and an early prototype should be ready in about two years. The Israeli military is also looking at a smaller unmanned unit currently under development by a different company called urbanaero. The company has been working for the past several years on its version of a “flying car” called AirMule which completed its first phase of flight testing in January 2010. The AirMule can take about 500kg (or 1100lbs) to a distance of 50km (31 miles) and it takes off and lad vertically just like an helicopter but without the big external rotor.

TFOT already covered several innovative unmanned flying vehicles including the K-Max Unmanned Helicopter, the Hummingbird UAV and a different Israeli unmanned concept called WaterScout – developed by students from the faculty of Aerospace Engineering at the Technion.

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