Aquila, Facebook’s long-flight aircraft successfully completed it first flight last Thursday. It is a project of the Facebook Connectivity Lab to provide internet connection to remote, underserved regions. The drone is planned to offer Internet signal in a diameter of 60 miles, and as it is solar-powered, it is expected to partake in flights of 90 days before needing to land.
Aquila is very light for an airplane. It has a third of an electric car’s weight and uses the power equivalent to three hair dryers. The plane is not able to surpass speeds of 80 miles per hour, which is ideal as it is a plane meant to hover on specific locations for long periods of time.
The child of unmanned flight and modern telecommunications
According to a Facebook blog post, at least 60 percent of the global population does not have an internet connection. That’s around 4 billion people. There are many factors that forbid the implementation of internet and telecommunications on these locations, which is why Facebook has opted for providing a solution from above.
Previous tests of Aquila had used scaled models, but this is the first time a real-sized version of Aquila has been tested. The aircraft is set to undergo plenty of more tests as time goes by. The model took part in a low-altitude flight for 90 minutes, surpassing expectations. The Connectivity Lab team measured its battery yield and how the piloting crew managed the flight patterns. The next test is set to elevate Aquila 60,000 feet in the air.
On the blog post, Jay Parikh, Global Head of engineering and infrastructure, explained that Facebook will have to break the world record in solar-powered unmanned flight to further develop the project. The current landmark is set at two weeks, while Aquila is expected to fly for 90 consecutive days, an equivalent to 6.4 weeks. It is noted that science itself will have to see a few advances alongside engineering for reaching such goal.
One of the most interesting facts about Aquila is that it will be able to fly at altitudes of 60,000 and 90,000 feet, thus locating itself above air traffic and the weather.
The aircraft is able to communicate with other drones in its fleet with free space laser communications. To communicate with grounded receivers, it will use e-band technology. It has a wider wingspan than a Boeing 737, liftoff and takeoff are automatic since it possesses the technology to land in precise and safe locations.
“Over the next year we’re going to keep testing Aquila — flying higher and longer, and adding more planes and payloads,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “It’s all part of our mission to connect the world and help more of the 4 billion people who are not online access all the opportunities of the internet.”
— RT America (@RT_America) July 22, 2016