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MoD awards £124m for pilot-free plane

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The UK Ministry of Defence is to invest £124m in developing a new pilotless plane.

The contract for Project Taranis, named for the Celtic God of Thunder the MoD says, has been awarded to a BAE Systems-led consortium, including firms like Rolls Royce, Qinetiq and Smiths Aerospace.

The contract requires that the group produce at least one demonstration plane, otherwise known as a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle). It will be one of the world's largest UAVs, coming in at a similar size to a Hawk jet, the government says. That is about eight tonnes.

The autonomous plane will also integrate stealth technology and will be tested for its potential to carry ground attack weapons.

As well as explaining how delighted he was to award the contract, and mentioning that it was groundbreaking, and so on, defence minister Lord Drayson said the project would "test cutting edge technology for a new generation of equipment for our front line forces".

The demonstration plane should be ready for test flights "later this decade", the MoD says. Test flights are provisionally scheduled to take place in Woomera, Australia, where BAE Systems has a flight range. ®

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