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By iHLS NewsDesk

The IDF’s “Sky Rider” Artillery Corps Unit, which operates the Skylark UAV, is celebrating its third birthday, and it’s getting some nice birthday presents, too: The new and improved Skylark 2 and a brand new flight simulator.

Skylark II. Photo: Elbit Systems
Skylark II. Photo: Elbit Systems

Elbit systems developed and supplied the Skylark 1 to the Artillery Corps, and is currently developing the improved Skylark 2 model. The Skylark 1 can remain airborne for 3 hours (according to Elbit specifications), while the improved model can sustain flight for up to 4 hours. The Skylark’s range will grow, too – from 20-40km to an average of 60km. The Skylark 2 will use an electric engine, allowing for silent, stealthy reconnaissance. In addition, the new model will carry advanced surveillance payloads, with day and night target acquisition capabilities.

The new simulator will benefit the UAV unit in the same way these devices benefit fighter jet units or civilian aviation companies – the operators train on the ground, in conditions that are very close to real field conditions, without having to waste very expensive hours of actual flight. A simulator for the small Skylark UAVs has the same overall effect as a simulator for the huge Boeing 747 airplanes.

The Sky Rider unit is unique. It flies aircraft, but still belongs to the Artillery Corps rather than the Air Force. The Unit, whose symbol is the mythical Pegasus, supplies “UAV services” to a number of IDF units, during exercises, training and operations. The unit participates in paratrooper exercises in the Golan Heights, aids Gaza border surveillance stations, and helps IDF and defense forces units look for suspects in West Bank cities. The unit took part in the Pillar of Defense operation in Gaza, in other operations, and even sent UAVs to patrol over roads and checkpoints during the return of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.

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iHLS – Israel Homeland Security

This is the life of a Sky Rider soldier consists of being get transferred from one arena to another – from urban areas to deserts, from the desert to the Galilee mountains. These soldiers carry the heavy UAVs on their own backs throughout Israel. They get assigned to other units – either during training or during actual operations – launch the UAV, receive the data recorded by the payload, transfer the gathered intel to their clients, land the Skylark and move on to the next mission. While they’re based in Southern Israel they almost never remain on base. Wherever there’s a need for airborne, advanced eyes in the sky – there the Sky Rider teams can be found.

The Sky Rider unit operates a tactical UAV, gathering battalion – to division-level intelligence. An infantry or armor battalion commander can use the Skylark to gain a better understanding of the surrounding area, an artillery unit can use it as an airborne forward observer, and a unit operating in an urban area can find out what’s happening in nearby streets and alleyways. The UAV transmits data in real time to those who need it.

The Sky Rider soldiers undergo four months of training until they’re ready to launch and fly their UAVs; this in addition to the Artillery Corps’ basic training. The unit is small, and the team members (three soldiers and an officer) are very close, socially as well as professionally.