Watchkeeper, the Army’s future unmanned aircraft, is due to begin flying from Boscombe Down in Amesbury this week.

The reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft, which is nearing the end of its trials, will be flown by highly skilled pilots and overseen by military air traffic controllers in a restricted airspace over the MoD’s Salisbury Plain Training Area in Wiltshire.

Since 2010, Watchkeeper, which is unarmed and does not carry any weapons, has been put through its paces by industry at a specialist site in West Wales.

It has now achieved more than 500 hours of flying time and the move to Wiltshire is the final stage of the trials process before the Army is cleared to begin its own live flying training later this year.

The Army already operate four types of unarmed unmanned air systems (UAS) in Afghanistan, which play an important role protecting soldiers on the ground by providing them with vital intelligence and reducing the need to deploy to potentially dangerous areas.

Once in service this summer, Watchkeeper will provide an additional capability to give the Army better situational awareness.

Watchkeeper, which has a wingspan of 35 feet and can fly at an altitude of up to 16,000 feet, will be operated alongside helicopters and other aircraft from the Boscombe Down airfield by 1st Artillery Brigade.

Colonel Mark Thornhill, Commander of 1st Artillery Brigade, said: “The arrival of Watchkeeper at Boscombe Down is an important milestone in this programme and we are excited about being able to begin training on this new and impressive capability. “