Flight into the storms

 
Published: Saturday 31 October 1998

Aviation history was made recently when an unpiloted aircraft flew over the Atlantic safely for the very first time. The designers of this remarkable robot plane say the breakthrough could eventually lead to improved weather forecasting. The robot aircraft, designed research teams based in Australia and the US, flew from Bell Island in New Foundland to Benbecila in Scotland's Outer Hebrides in just over a day - 26 hours to be exact - without any human intervention whatsoever. The plane has a wingspan of around three metres, weighs 14 kilograms and carries weather sensors. Greg Holland of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, who was involved in this robot plane project, says future versions of the aircraft will even beam back weather information via satellites. "We can deploy them in a tropical cyclone, in a severe thunderstorm, anywhere in the world," he says. "By focusing on remote areas where we know that observations are needed, this is expected to lead to quite significant improvements in weather prediction."

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