Britain's Taranis military drone in successful test flights
An unmanned drone said to be the most technologically advanced aircraft built in Britain has made its first successful test flights, according to military chiefs.
The £185 million (HK$2.34 billion) top-secret Taranis craft, named after the Celtic god of thunder, conducted the tests at an unnamed location, believed to be in the Australian desert, in August last year, the Ministry of Defence revealed at a briefing on Wednesday in London.
The pilotless aircraft was designed and built by BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, GE Aviation and QinetiQ, working alongside military staff, and was funded by the government and the British defence industry.
The aircraft was first unveiled by BAE at a ceremony in 2010 but has since been kept under wraps.
Nigel Whitehead, group managing director of BAE Systems, called Taranis the "pinnacle of British engineering".
He said the aircraft had performed a perfect take-off, rotation, "climb-out" and landing.
Test pilot Bob Fraser, who remotely operated the aircraft, was forbidden from giving precise details about the speed and altitude capabilities of the Taranis, but revealed it flew at least "twice as fast" as any other drone he had operated.
It is reported to fly faster than the speed of sound, and is the prototype for Britain's first stealth combat drone, due to be operational in the 2030s.
Philip Dunne, minister for defence equipment and technology, called it "the most advanced air system yet conceived, designed, and built in the UK".
"Taranis is providing vital insights that will help shape future capabilities for our armed forces in coming decades," he said.