Forty years after the IDF’s elite Airborne Combat, Search and Rescue Unit 669 was formed, unmanned aerial vehicles for wartime evacuations were a major focus of last week’s second international medical conference on combat airborne evacuation and treatment.The IsCREAM2 conference in Ra’anana – organized by the 669 “Cat” alumni association – saw the participation of top medical practitioners, MDA, United Hatzalah, civilian rescue units, firefighters and senior IDF officers including former IAF Commander Maj.-Gen. (res) Amir Eshel.The IDF’s elite Airborne Combat, Search and Rescue Unit 669 is one of the four IDF Special Forces, and has rescued more than 10,000 people across Israel and throughout the world.Troops in Unit 669 are trained in combat medicine, parachuting, scuba diving, counter-terrorism, rappelling, rescue under harsh conditions and navigation. The unit has received several chief of staff commendations for its work which has included rescue missions of Special Force soldiers as well as injured or stranded Israelis, both abroad and at home.In the four decades since its first operation, the unit’s capabilities and responsibilities have increased, as have the battlefield dangers.Janina Frankel-Yoeli, vice president for marketing at Urban Aeronautics – which designed the Cormorant tactical Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) – told The Jerusalem Post that the idea for the aircraft came following the Second Lebanon War.“The need for the capability was established during the 2006 Lebanon war and the suitability of Cormorant to fill that need has been publicly acknowledged. We expect the IDF to be our lead customer,” she said.Frankel-Yoeli told the Post that the company has been working with the IDF for the past eight years on the project, “defining the needs and refining the design accordingly.” A compact, unmanned, single-engine, VTOL (Vertical Take Off and Landing) aircraft, the Cormorant’s internal lift rotors allow it to fly in terrain where helicopters are unable to, such as obstructed wooded or urban areas, or in areas where supply or medical convoys face deadly threats, eliminating the exposure of personnel to operational hazards.“The ability to operate inside obstructed terrain is not only a technological breakthrough, but a complete revolution for in-theater operational planning,” she said at the conference.Due to its innovative design, the Cormorant tactical UAS has the capacity to evacuate two casualties as well as the ability to reconfigure itself to carry other payloads.With over 250 flights to date, it is the only UAS recognized by NATO as being able to carry out both cargo delivery and CASEVAC (casualty evacuation) missions. The aircraft has a total cargo volume of 2,640 liters. It has the ability to deliver tons of supplies to sustain soldiers in the battlefield while evacuating the dead or wounded.The Cormorant can carry 500 kg. per each 50-km. radius sortie and is capable of reaching speeds of 100 mph at a altitude of up to 18,000 feet. The one-ton aircraft – which can be operated by a specially designed remote-control system – can also fly autonomously using laser altimeters, radars and sensors.