Israel’s BlueBird Aero Systems (Hall 6, Stand D680) is displaying the recently upgraded version of the ThunderB UAV. Aimed at providing the kind of long-endurance ISTAR capability normally associated with much larger air vehicles, ThunderB has a much-reduced logistics footprint by comparison, and can be operated from a single small vehicle by a team of two or three.
Weighing just 28kg, the air vehicle is small enough to be deployed in the field, yet offers an endurance of more than 24 hours and an extended control range of 150km. In a test conducted on 27 March this year, the ThunderB demonstrated an endurance of 25.5 hours as part of a customer demonstration, with sufficient fuel remaining for another 2.5 hours of flight.
With a wing span of 4m, the ThunderB is virtually undetectable by visual means when flying at altitudes of greater than 3,000ft (915m).
Power comes from a 1.86kW (2.5hp) electronic fuel-injected two-stroke engine that has a low acoustic signature. The vehicle is launched by pneumatic means and recovers by parachute, with an airbag to soften the landing.
Its advanced systems have been designed to operate in a heavy electronic warfare (EW) and communications jamming environment, and in locations where GPS navigation is denied. Sensor payloads not only include a standard EO/IR turret, but also an ultra high-resolution photogrammetric sensor for 3D mapping. Blue Force tracking sensors and high-definition video streaming systems can also be carried.
ThunderB has attracted significant interest, and has been sold to customers in Europe and Asia. BlueBird has not disclosed who they are, but one is known to be Azerbaijan. In April this year, an Azerbaijani ThunderB was displayed by Armenian forces after being shot down over the disputed region of Nagorno- Karabakh. ThunderB is also understood to have been the subject of interest from nations in central/southern Europe seeking a means of patrolling borders and monitoring the movement of migrants.