Facebook has long been experimenting with the idea of using solar-powered drones to deliver internet access to locations on the ground. Because internet access means new Facebook users (and you can’t tell us any different). The culmination of this experimentation is Aquila, a solar-powered plane of sorts. Aquila has had its first full-sized flight and Facebook, as well as the engineers and researchers involved in the project, is understandably pleased.
Previous versions of Aquila were one fifth the size of the full-sized craft. The scale version has been operating for several months but the full craft with the Boeing 737-like wingspan has finally had its day in the… in the sun, so to speak. And it works, albeit in a short, low-altitude flight. Aquila flew for 90-minutes, longer than the 30 minutes that were originally planned, at a height of 2,150 feet.
Facebook was able to “…verify several performance models and components, including aerodynamics, batteries, control systems, and crew training” but there are several more tests on the horizon. Eventually the light-weight internet-delivery drone will be set up to patrol a 100-kilometre (diameter) area, flying over the region for up to three months at a time at a height of 60,000 feet. Beaming down (apparently) cheap internet access all the while.
First, though, Aquila has to break the world record for uninterrupted, unmanned solar-powered flight (which stands at two weeks) in addition to passing all of the other tests that are waiting for the plane.