Page last updated at 14:41 GMT, Friday, 16 April 2010 15:41 UK

Unmanned plane on maiden flight in Ceredigion

Watchkeeper unmanned aircraft being trialed at Aberporth, Ceredigion
The Watchkeeper unmanned aircraft spent 20 minutes in the air

An unmanned military surveillance plane has taken its maiden flight at an air centre at Aberporth in Ceredigion.

The Watchkeeper air system was launched on a 20 minute flight from Parc Aberporth, the UK's purpose-built testing site for unmanned aircraft.

When fully operational, its makers hope it will be able to offer British forces an "eye-in-the-sky" in high risk areas.

The plane is a joint project between the defence company Thales UK and the Ministry of Defence.

"This is a momentous accomplishment in the Watchkeeper programme and just one of a number of flight trials scheduled over the coming months," said Alex Dorrian, chief executive of Thales UK.

Field trials

"This milestone reflects the years of hard work by Thales UK, the MoD and other parties since the contract was signed."

The Parc Aberporth centre was specially developed to test and trial unmanned aircraft, for both military and civilian use.

The Watchkeeper projects hopes to deliver an all-weather unmanned aircraft capable of being in the air for up to 16 hours at a time, providing high resolution imaging and ground tracking radar.

It can take off and land automatically, and the information it provides can be accessed and used by UK forces anywhere in the world.

Mr Dorrian added: "2010 is an important year for the programme as it will also see the opening of the Watchkeeper training facility based in Larkhill (Salisbury), and the continuation of the technical field trials at Parc Aberporth."

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