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PALMACHIM AIR FORCE BASE, Israel — Resembling a huge bird with fixed wings and a mushroom sticking out of its head, Israel's largest unmanned surveillance aircraft flew over a seaside air force base, its promoters claiming it can fly higher, faster and farther than any other drone.
Called the Heron, which describes its wideswept appearance, the drone has already seen combat, searching out Hezbollah arms and directing airstrikes in last summer's war in Lebanon. Its public unveiling Wednesday appeared to have commercial as well as strategic intent.
Israeli officials said a prototype performed well during the summer war. They also hinted that the Heron had the potential to reach as far as Iran, considered Israel's most serious strategic threat because of its nuclear program and its president's calls to wipe Israel off the map.
"Its versatility and achievements are on the forefront of the world's technology and will allow us to perform various operational missions," said Maj. Gen. Eliezer Shkedi, the air force chief, at the ceremony officially bringing the Heron into service. "Today, almost 60 years after the establishment of the state, Israel, the only home of the Jewish people, is still under threat."
With its 16.6 meter (54-foot) wingspan and ability to fly for as long as 30 hours at a time, at a speed of 120 knots (140 mph, 225 kph) and a height of 9,000 meters (30,000 feet), the Heron is Israel's latest and most advanced weapon in the booming field of drone technology, air force officers said.