Facebook's Aquila drone nails second test flight
Facebook's plan to bring the entire world online using a solar-powered, internet-beaming aircraft has taken another step forward, with the company testing its Aquila drone for the second time. The successful take-off and landing marks progress for the technology company, as the first time Aquila took to the skies not everything went entirely to plan.
Facebook first unveiled the Aquila drone back in 2015. The aircraft has a wingspan greater than that of a Boeing 737, weighs around a third of an electric car, and draws its power from solar panels spread across its carbon fiber wings and frame. Eventually, Facebook says it will stay aloft for 90 days at a time.
Meanwhile, it will use a laser-based communication system to transmit information between other Aquila drones and beam an internet signal far and wide. This system remains a work in progress, but Facebook says speeds of up to 10 Gbps may be possible with further development.
All of that is someway down the track. For now it is all about baby steps, one of which involved a bit of a stumble, when Aquila was flight-tested for the first time last July. Facebook described the trial as a success at the time, but it later emerged that the aircraft actually crashed on landing, something the company attributed to particularly strong winds.
Facebook has made some modifications to the aircraft, adding spoilers to the wings to increase drag and reduce lift during the landing approach. The upgrades also include new sensors, updates to the autopilot software, a smoother finish and a horizontal propellor-stopping mechanism to help with landings.
This second flight saw Aquila climb to an altitude of 3,000 ft (914 m) and soar through the Arizona skies for one hour and 46 minutes, before coming down to land smoothly on a landing pad made of levelled gravel.
Facebook says the flight was all about data, and the information it gleaned from Aquila's second outing will help it refine its aerodynamic models to make the craft more energy efficient. At present, it is claimed to use as much power as three blow dryers.