A DEAL has been reached which will see BAE take over one of its partners in the field of unmanned aircraft.

Engineers at Samlesbury and Warton have already been collaborating with Guildford-based Prismatic on the PHASA-35 project.

Their ambition is to use long life battery technology and ultra-lightweight solar cells to develop planes capable of flying at 65,000 for up to a year.

Nigel Whitehead, BAE's chief technology officer, said the arrangement represened bringing together the "best of British" in combat air technology.

He added: "Working together with Prismatic, we're pushing technological boundaries to develop a revolutionary solar-powered aircraft at an incredibly rapid pace.

"Our investment in the company will enable us to take this technology into production, with the very real possibility that this aircraft could enter initial operations with customers within 12 months of flight trials."

Paul Brooks, founder and CEO of Prismatic, said: "We are a small, entrepreneurial team of scientists and engineers focused on designing and demonstrating novel, high value aerospace systems.

"This investment from BAE represents a landmark in the development of Prismatic, giving our team access to world-class expertise and capacity in systems integration, productionisation and operations that will enable our developments to be fully exploited.

"This is a partnership built on outstanding technical experience and which exploits the very best in small company thinking and large company experience.”

The two outfits have been co-operating since May 2018 and have been developing two 35-metre solar-powered prototypes, before moving on to full-scale equivalents, which are now being tested at Warton, ahead of planned flight trials next year.

PHASA stands for Persistent High Altitude Solar Aircraft, with the sun powering them during the day and batteries taking over at night. Ultra-thin carbon fibre composites are used in their manufacture, for maximum efficiency. The aircrafts could be a 'game changer' in surveillance.