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Robot spy plane spans Pacific

Global Hawk
Global Hawk can survey an area of more than 70,000 square kilometers each flight  

ADELAIDE, Australia (CNN) -- After 23 hours and 20 minutes of continuous flight, the experimental unmanned spy plane Global Hawk landed successfully in Adelaide, South Australia, on Monday evening.

In what was by far its longest flight yet, Global Hawk completed a 13,000 kilometer (8000 mile) trip across the Pacific Ocean from Edwards Air Force Base in California to the Royal Australian Air Force base of Edinburgh.

"It's a tremendous feat to achieve this," United States Air Force Colonel Wayne Johnson told CNN.

The United States Air Force aircraft has been re-named Southern Cross II for the length of its stay in Australia in honor of the first aviator to fly the Pacific solo, Australian Charles Kingsford Smith, 50 years ago.

The plane was monitored and controlled for half its journey by US Air Force personnel at Edwards base before Australian based operators took over for the latter half.

More than 120 U.S. Air Force personnel are in Australia assisting with the Global Hawk's Pacific flight.

Australia has been involved in the Global Hawk project for more than two years after identifying an opportunity to jointly develop surveillance technologies of particular relevance to Australia's needs.

Immigrant boats

Australia has so far committed $10 million to the development of the spy plane, which it hopes may eventually be used to detect and monitor illegal immigrant boats off the nation's vast coastlines as well as fishing boats operating illegally in Australia waters.

In particular, Australia is contributing to the development of radars and sensors for use over oceans.

An electro-optic (EO) image taken by the plane from an elevation of 16,764 meters (55,000 feet)
An electro-optic (EO) image taken by the plane from an elevation of 16,764 meters (55,000 feet)  

Even at heights of more than 60,000 feet the plane can discern a boat's name and number and send that information to ground stations almost anywhere in the world.

It can also supply its operators with the information seconds after sensing and recording it.

No decision has been made on whether Australia will buy any of the aircraft for its defense forces but the RAAF is keen to operate the craft jointly with the US in future exercises.

Global Hawk, which has a wingspan greater than that of a 737 jet airliner, can survey an area of more than 70,000 square kilometers in a single flight.

Now the aircraft is in Australia, it will take part in five weeks of joint military exercises between the U.S. and Australia before making the return flight across the Pacific.

Global Hawk Down Under

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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