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Friday, August 21, 1998 Published at 22:05 GMT 23:05 UK


Transatlantic record for pilotless plane

The satellite-guided plane flew at an average 76mph

A tiny unmanned plane has crossed the Atlantic from Newfoundland, making history as what is believed to be the first crossing by an aircraft without a pilot.

The Aerosonde Phase 1 plane called Laima, landed safely at South Uist in the Western Isles. Another plane failed to arrive.

The planes, which have a 10ft wingspan and are guided by satellite, took off from a car roof on Thursday.

'No problems'

Scientists say the plane - designed, built and launched by Seattle-based aerospace research company Insitu - could be used for weather information gathering.

Bill Vaglienti, an aeronautical engineer with Insitu said: "We're all very excited. It showed up on time and we brought it in with no anomalies and no problems."

The crossing comes some 71 years after Charles Lindbergh became the first man to fly across the Atlantic in a single-engine plane.

Mr Viglianti described the moment when his three-man team first made radio contact with the aircraft as it headed in.

'It was just great'

"It was about 25 miles offshore when we picked it up on our systems and that was really something.

"We were then able to take control of it and guide it towards us manually using a joystick - just like a model plane in the park.

"Landing it was pretty routine, but the feeling of real excitement when we detected it first was just great."

Laima travelled at an average speed of 76mph and flew at 1,800m to prevent icing and avoid other aircraft.

During the 2,000-mile trip the tiny one-cylinder engine that powered the aircraft used less than 10 litres of fuel.

The Aerosondes project is sponsored by the weather services of Canada, Australia, Taiwan and the US.

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