Tilt-rotor aircraft, such as the Bell-Boeing built V-22 Osprey, that use powered rotors mounted on rotating shafts or nacelles at the end of a fixed wing for lift and propulsion combine the vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) capabilities of a helicopter with the speed and range of a conventional fixed-wing aircraft. Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) is bringing these benefits to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with its new Panther and Mini Panther UAVs that were unveiled last week at the Latrun Conference in Israel.

The Panther’s VTOL capabilities give it the ability to takeoff and land on an unprepared area, while an automatic flight control system controls the transitions between the hovering takeoff phase to forward flight and vice versa before landing. IAI says this system eliminates the need for an external pilot and allows the craft to take off and land automatically with the click of a button on the operator console.

Itzhak Nissan, President and CEO of IAI, said: "The Panther's intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, along with its effective use of changing flight dynamics, make it a unique and invaluable asset on the tactical battlefield for the Israel Defense Forces and for foreign customers. We consider the innovative technology used in this system to be ground-breaking."

The Panther, which weighs roughly 65 kg (143 lb), is powered by three ultra-quiet electrical motors that allow the craft to loiter for approximately six hours, at an altitude of up to 10,000 feet, with an operational radius of over 60 km (37 miles). The UAV carries IAI’s Mini-POP (Plug-in Optronic Payload), which consists of a day/night stabilized camera with a laser range finder, pointer or laser designator. Meanwhile, the smaller Mini Panther, which weighs up to 12 kg (26 lb), can loiter for approximately two hours and carries IAI’s Micro-POP.

The Panther control station can store up to three aircraft and can be transported on a midsize vehicle. It also includes the ground data link, the support equipment and spare parts, with two fully redundant identical consoles that are used to control the UAV’s mission. The portable Mini Panther system includes two aircraft and a command and control unit and is small enough to be carried in the backpacks of two soldiers.

Both the Panther and Mini-Panther platforms are designed to be entirely automatic and can be controlled by one operator, while the command and control station has two operators controlling the station and oversee the mission.

IAI says it has successfully conducted flight tests of prototypes of the Panther platform, which should be operational by 2011. The company will exhibit the Panther for the first time internationally later this month at the Association of the United State’s Army’s (AUSA) 2010 Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington D.C., (October 25-27).