Daily Mail – January 31, 2012
A long-range ‘Iran-busting’ drone crashed near an Israeli air base during a test flight.
A wing from the remote controlled Heron TP, which is nearly as wide as a Boeing 737, broke off after the aircraft ‘performed a manoeuvre beyond its capabilities’ on Sunday.
The accident took place during secret tests to prepare the drone, which can be used for spying and bombing missions, for a military strike against Iran, it has been claimed.
The Israeli Air Force has now launched an investigation into the smash of the $30million craft which can stay in the air for 40 hours and fly for 4,600 miles.
General Ido Nehushtan, commander of the Israeli air force, said new technology on the drone was being tested when the aircraft crashed into an orchard near the Tel Nof air base outside Rehovot.
A preliminary investigation indicated that human error and a technical malfunction contributed to the accident.
According to military sources, a wing that fell off the drone had been fitted with a highly advanced navigational device that might have interfered with the aircraft’s other flight systems.
As the Israeli military’s most advanced drone, it has a wingspan of 85ft, nearly that of a Boeing 737, and a payload capacity of 2,000 kilos. It was developed by Israel Aerospace Industries.
Known as the Eitan in Israel, the drone has platforms for surveillance equipment and for firing rockets.
It can be used in a variety of missions, such as aerial refuelling, jamming communications and relaying ground control in Israel to manned aircraft over a distant target.
Israeli officials reportedly have been considering a military strike on Iran to prevent the Islamic republic from making an atomic weapon.
The Eitan, which soars as high as 40,000 feet, would likely play a key role in an attack. The distance between Iran and Israel is about 1,000 miles.
A security source in Jerusalem told the Mirror: ‘The crash is of course a blow to the Israeli Air Force, which would obviously play a leading role in any military action against Iran – should current sanctions against Iran be unsuccessful in stopping its attempts to develop a nuclear weapon.
‘The Heron is widely known as a drone that can easily reach Iran, hopefully remain unseen while performing an operation and then return to Israel to refuel.’
According to press accounts, the drone was used in a 2009 airstrike in Sudan against a Gaza-bound convoy carrying Iranian arms destined for the Hamas militant group.
The drone also is used reconnaissance missions over Lebanon and along the Egyptian border and to protect against sabotage of Israel’s offshore natural gas installations.
General Nehushtan said 25 percent of the air force’s mission are carried out by drones.
A squadron of Eitans was inaugurated in December 2010 and is scheduled to become operational in coming weeks.
In December, an advanced U.S. surveillance drone using stealth technology went down in Iran. Iranian officials claimed to have forced it down electronically.