Israel Aerospace Industries has added its "Panther" to its deep mix of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles - better known as "drones" in plain-speak. The Panther is rather unique, however, in its overall field capabilities for it has been designed from the outset as a Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) vehicle utilizing a tilt-rotor concept similar in scope and function to the manned, large-scale American V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor transport. As such, the Panther does not require runway distance to take-off or land and increases its tactical value to forces operating in confined spaces. Production of the IAI Panther is handled by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), primary recognized for its Kfir series of multirole manned aircraft and Pioneer and Heron UAVs. The Panther was first showcased to the public in October of 2010 and is believed to have been introduced into formal operational service sometime in 2011.
The drone has completely upset the balance of modern warfare, allowing use of unmanned aircraft to accomplish various battlefield roles without risk to the pilot. These roles include reconnaissance, surveillance, artillery spotting, tracking and engagement. Some are wholly autonomous, requiring no human input, while others are controlled via stations 1,000s of miles away or through line-of-sight means. In the Panther product, the UAV is controlled by two personnel through the provided control station. This allows the Panther to operate 37 miles out within its combat radius. The system generally operates up to 10,000 feet of altitude and holds a loiter endurance of about six hours. Only the take-off and landing process is handled autonomously. At this point, the Panther remains an unarmed vehicle and is used primarily for its tracking facilities. As such, its payload is generally made up of sensors, cameras, a laser designator and a laser rangefinder. Overall, the Panther system weighs a manageable 140lbs.
Externally, the Panther is of a fixed-wing design utilizing wide-spanning main wing appendages. These wings are mounted low along the streamlined, tubular fuselage with pointed nose. Booms extend aft from each wing trailing edge and mount vertical fins at the rear. These fins are then joined by a single horizontal plane acting as the aircraft's stabilizer. The undercarriage is wheeled and retractable, consisting of two main legs and a nose leg. Power is served through three electric motors, two seated near each wing root and the third at eh rear of the fuselage. All three hold are positional systems raising up for vertical flight and lowering for horizontal travel. When lowered, the wing-mounted systems act in the puller arrangement while the fuselage-mounted installation is utilized in the pusher arrangement. The positioning of all engines is handled automatically by the onboard system.
Beyond the base, full-scale Panther is the Mini-Panther, a more compact offering intended for increased portability and lower procurement/maintenance costs. Appropriately, the capabilities of this machine are lessened to an extent including a less than two hour loitering window and limited payload capacities. However, the control station is highly portable and can be transported across two packs on foot.