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Robot plane flies Pacific unmanned

"The aircraft essentially flies itself, right from take-off, right through to landing, and even taxiing off the runway." - Australian Global Hawk manager Rod Smith.

A robot plane has made aviation history by becoming the first unmanned aircraft to fly across the Pacific Ocean.

The American high-altitude Global Hawk spy plane made flew cross the ocean to Australia, defence officials confirmed.

The Global Hawk, a jet-powered aircraft with a wingspan equivalent to a Boeing 737, flew from Edwards Air Force Base in California and landed late on Monday at the Royal Australian Air Force base at Edinburgh, in South Australia state.

The 8600 mile (13840 km) flight, at an altitude of almost 12.5 miles (20 km), took 22 hours and set a world record for the furthest a robotic aircraft has flown between two points.

The Global Hawk flies along a pre-programmed flight path, but a pilot monitors the aircraft during its flight via a sensor suite which provides infra-red and visual images.

"The aircraft essentially flies itself, right from takeoff, right through to landing, and even taxiing off the runway," said Rod Smith, the Australian Global Hawk manager.

While in Australia, the Global Hawk will fly about 12 maritime surveillance and reconnaissance missions around Australia's remote coastline.

It can fly non-stop for 36 hours and search 52,895 square miles (37,000 square km) in 24 hours.

Australia is assessing the aircraft and might buy it in future.

"Emerging systems such as the Global Hawk offer Australia great potential for surveillance, reconnaissance and ultimately the delivery of combat power," said Brendan Nelson, parliamentary secretary to the Australian defence minister.

Nelson said the Global Hawk could be used in combat to "detect, classify and monitor" targets as they approached the Australian coast.

Related links
US Pacific Command



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