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Unmanned aerial vehicle

An unmanned aerial vehicle, also called drone and UAV, is a self-descriptive term used by the US military to describe their latest generation of pilotless aircraft. Taken literally, the term could describe anything from kites, through radio-controlled aircraft[?] popular with hobbyists, to cruise missiles from the V-1 Flying Bomb onwards, but in the military parlance is restricted to reusable, fixed-wing, heavier-than-air craft.

Interest in such craft has grown within the higher echelons of the US military, as they offer the possibility of cheaper, more capable fighting machines that can be used without risk to aircrews. Initial generations have primarily been surveillance aircraft, but some have already been fitted with weaponry (such as the Predator, which can be fitted with air-to-ground missiles). The military envisages that more and more roles will be performed by unmanned aircraft, initially bombing and ground attack, with air-to-air combat expected to be the last domain of the fighter pilot for now.


NASA has been sponsoring research into a solar-powered UAV called Helios, which in 2001 reached an altitude of almost 30 km. Helios broke up and crashed over the Pacific on 26 June 2003.

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