FAREWELL: The Heron Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle (UAV) surrounded by Australian service personnel at Kandahar Airfield.
FAREWELL: The Heron Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle (UAV) surrounded by Australian service personnel at Kandahar Airfield. CPL Andrew Eddie

Heron drone departs as RAAF looks towards future

THE Royal Australian Air Force has marked the end of an era with a decision to withdraw the Heron remotely piloted aircraft from service.

Ipswich residents may recall the Heron drone aircraft arriving at Amberley base in April last year as part of training exercises.

The Heron flew its last mission from RAAF Base Tindal during Exercise Diamond Storm on June 23.

 

During Diamond Storm, Heron completed 17 sorties in support of the Air Warfare Instructor Course in an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance electronic warfare (ISREW) role.

No.5 Flight is set to be disbanded at the end of the year. The aircraft played a pivotal role in supporting Australia's security interests in Afghanistan, where it completed more than 27,000 mission hours during Operation Slipper.

CO 5FLT WGCDR Lee Read said it was immensely satisfying to end with such a successful involvement in Exercise Diamond Storm.

"I want to congratulate the 5FLT team, including our technical workforce from the contractor MDA and our embeds from No.87 Squadron, JEWOSU and No.1 Combat Communications Squadron, who all worked together to ensure that 5FLT and Heron closed for business on a high," he said.

After its last operational mission from Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan on November 30, 2014, Heron then made history by flying in civilian airspace for the first time out of Rockhampton airport during Exercise Talisman Sabre 2015. This led to the commencement of operations from its home base at RAAF Base Amberley in 2016.

In October last year, Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove presented the Meritorious Unit Citation to members of 5FLT during an investiture ceremony.

From January 2010 to November 2014, 5FLT, operating as Task Unit 633.2.7, provided ISREW support to Australian forces and International Security Assistance Force partners in southern Afghanistan. About 500 personnel who were deployed as part of the task unit were recognised.

A replacement drone is being acquired through Project AIR 7003 and is scheduled to be delivered after 2020. Project AIR 7003 will deliver an armed medium altitude long endurance unmanned aircraft system.

Air Force has taken steps to retain and further develop knowledge and experience, including embedding personnel in the US Air Force flying the MQ-9 Reaper.

These personnel will form the core of the future ADF capability to be delivered by AIR 7003.