Three aircraft under development by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) have the potential to revolutionize civilian and military aviation in the coming decade.
The aircraft, revealed in The Jerusalem Post for the first time, are: an unmanned cargo plane that can carry a payload of up to 30 tons; a solar-powered Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) capable of conducting long-range surveillance; and an environmentally-friendly inter-city aircraft powered by innovative fuel cells.
All three are the brainchild of Arnold Nathan, director of Research and Development at IAI's Engineering Division and Shlomo Tsach, its director of Flight Sciences, and are being developed in conjunction with the European Union and a number of global aerospace companies.
Tsach and Nathan are leading development of the Innovative Future Air Transport System, an unmanned cargo plane with a 30-meter wingspan that can transplant up to 30 tons. The technology already exists to build unmanned passenger jets, but "the world is not yet ready to be flown without a pilot at the stick," Tsach says.
"A psychological obstacle needs to be overcome before people are willing to fly in unmanned planes," adds Tsach, a world-renowned expert on UAVs.
According to a poll recently conducted by Boeing Co., Tsach says, 70 percent of respondents would refuse to fly in a pilotless plane, but they would be willing to transport their cargo in a UAV. The US Federal Aviation Administration recently set up a committee to examine the changes to regulations that would be required if and when passenger and cargo UAVs take to the skies.
"Today's passenger planes fly automatically even though there is a pilot in the cockpit," Tsach says. "Once the new cargo plane takes to the air, it will only be a matter of time before there also are unmanned passenger planes."
Nathan, originally from Chicago, heads up an IAI team that works on projects in conjunction with the EU. He is currently overseeing 85 projects and most recently got IAI accepted as a major partner in a ?1.6 billion project to build environment-friendly parts for aircraft. In the case of the Innovative Future Air Transport System, IAI has put up ?610,000 of the project's ?6.68m. price tag.
"Our job is to foresee future technology, what we will need and what to invest in," Nathan says, adding that the partnership with the EU was necessary for IAI since "if you want to succeed, you can't work alone."
Another interesting project concerns the Enfica-FC - Environmentally Friendly Inter-City Aircraft powered by Fuel Cells. The first flight test will be held in a year and a half; IAI has put up ?700,000 of the project's ?4.2 million cost.
The 10-seater aircraft's fuel cells will reduce noise and damage to the environment. IAI is interested in the innovative use of fuel cells, an alternative energy source that could one day also be applied to military aircraft.
The third aircraft with revolutionary potential under development by IAI is the Sun Sailor, a solar-powered UAV that weighs four kilograms and is capable of carrying a small digital camera for military surveillance missions. It was developed in conjunction with students from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.
"The Sun Sailor will be able to continue flying indefinitely since its source of energy is the sun," says Tsach.
Nathan says IAI plans to continue to build on its 10-year partnership with the EU. "This partnership has us involved in projects valued at hundreds of millions of dollars," he said. "The technology is also available for IAI and we benefit from it."