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Boeing unmanned plane has fifth flight

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An experimental high-altitude unmanned plane developed by Boeing Co completed a fifth flight on Saturday and may soon fly at 60,000 feet, a top Boeing executive said Tuesday.

Boeing designed its "Phantom Eye" drone, which is powered by liquid hydrogen, to meet the U.S. military's demand for high altitude, persistent surveillance. It is a propeller-driven lightweight structure that Boeing says can fly continuously for four days, but executives say they are exploring larger variants that could stay in the air for up to 10 days.

Daryl Davis, president of Phantom Works, the advanced prototyping and research arm of Boeing's defense division, said the aircraft completed a fifth flight this past weekend, achieving "almost every one of our objectives." He gave no further details and did not give the altitude of Saturday's flight.

He said the company was assessing data from the flight, but would "look forward to potentially going all the way to 60,000 feet here very soon." Davis spoke to Reuters at the annual Air Force Association Conference.

The aircraft, which has a takeoff weight of 9,800 pounds (4,445 kg) is designed to eventually fly at an even higher altitude of 65,000 feet, according to a Boeing fact sheet.

The plane, which has a maximum speed of 200 knots, completed its first autonomous flight in June 2012.

Boeing and other weapons makers see continued demand for unmanned planes as the U.S. military scrambles to increase its ability to surveil large areas of the earth.

The U.S. Air Force currently operates Global Hawk unmanned planes built by Northrop Grumman Corp, which fly at 60,000 feet for 30 hours.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Carol Bishopric)

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