• The German Bundeswehr Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial system (UAS) Heron 1 flew its first operational mission in Mali on 1 November from Gao airport. The 5 hour 40 minutes flight was fully successful and occurred only about three months following the initial contract signature.

Photo By Bundeswehr

Similar to the operator model for the Heron 1 in Afghanistan, Airbus DS Airborne Solutions GmbH (ADAS), a subsidiary of Airbus Defence and Space, is responsible for the provision, maintenance and overhaul of the system in Mali.  

This operation follows a specific agreement signed on 21 July by the Federal Office of Bundeswehr Equipment, Information Technology and In-Service Support (BAAINBw) and ADAS. The deployment of the Heron 1 in Mali is planned initially until February 2018.  

The first flight is an important step to obtain the declaration of full operational capability (FOC). To achieve FOC, three aircraft will be stationed in Gao and reconnaissance missions will be carried out focusing on the north-east of the country in order to protect the citizens and MINUSMA personnel.  

With a range of up to 800 kilometers, the Heron 1 system substantially extends the reach of aerial reconnaissance in the region. The reconnaissance results are made available to the joint evaluation center of the MINUSMA Mission, contributing to increased security for all employees involved in this UN deployment.  

Heron 1 is an unmanned aerial system for medium altitude and long-term endurance (MALE) above the respective area of operation and is made by the Israeli manufacturer IAI. The aircraft has a wingspan of seventeen meters and has a maximum mission endurance of more than twenty-four hours. Military tasks include tracking down explosives from the air, assist in convoying and patrolling, providing reconnaissance to ground forces in combat situations, exploration of tracks, creating movement profiles and long-term monitoring, support for situation assessment as well as camp and force protection. The system is also used for the purpose of supporting humanitarian operations and homeland security.  

Airbus DS Airborne Solutions GmbH is a subsidiary of Airbus Defence and Space. Based in Bremen, the company is responsible for services with unmanned aerial systems and has been operating the Heron 1 system successfully since 2010 for the German Forces in Afghanistan. The parent company Airbus Defence and Space is a division of the Airbus Group and is the leading defence and space company in Europe and the second largest space company in the world. Business activities include aerospace, military aircraft and associated systems and services. With more than 38,000 employees, the division generated annual revenues of more than € 13 billion in 2015.