Flying Elephant from Elbit Systems

“Defense News” reports that Elbit Systems Ltd.  is working with the Ministry of Defense to develop unmanned cargo plane, dubbed the “Flying Elephant”. Sources say that cargo an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is a “huge, slow, self takeoff and landing pallet carrier that would fly through high winds and land in austere, unpaved areas.”

The Ministry of Defense’s Research & Development Directorate (Mafat) launched the project several weeks ago. Under the unpublicized multiyear contract, Elbit System will develop multiple prototypes of the Flying Elephant, which will be designed for maximum safety, stability, and carrying capacity.

Sources said that the cargo UAV will have limited range given the close proximity of most combat theaters where Israel is likely to deploy large numbers of ground forces. Future versions of the Flying Elephant may be configured for medical evacuation missions, with ground troops uploading severe casualties for the return flight home.

“The intensifying threat from rockets and missiles of all types is driving changes in the way we employ existing assets, as well as the requirements shaping our future force,” an IDF general staff officer told “Defense News”. “Certainly, unmanned alternatives will be needed for scenarios that expose aircrews [of C-130 cargo planes and utility helicopters] to exceedingly high risks.”

Defense and industry sources say that the development contract covers four years, with possible options for optimizing the aircraft for supporting medical evacuation missions.

“Defense News” said that Elbit Systems would not confirm or deny involvement in the program and referred all queries to the Ministry of Defense. A Ministry of Defense spokesman confirmed the recently awarded development program, and estimated that the first prototype should be ready for testing within two years, but declined to provide additional information.

“Defense News” compares the Flying Elephant with two other Israeli UAVs, one operational, and the other under development. The Israel Air Force deploys a small squadron of one-ton carrying UAVs, the multi-mission Heron, built by Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. (IAI) called the Eitan in Israel. It is far too sophisticated and costly to be used for close range cargo-hauling missions.

The Flying Elephant will more than double the carrying capacity of the AirMule, a dedicated, multi-mission vertical-takeoff and-landing UAV in advanced flight testing by Yavne, Israel-based Urban Aeronautics Ltd.Defense and industry sources said that the AirMule, with its sophisticated internal lift rotors and low radar signature, represents a different class of the recently expanding cargo UAV market, and cannot be compared with the crude, propeller powered, outsized airframe envisioned for the Flying Elephant.