Facebook’s Connectivity Lab announced on July 21 that it had achieved a milestone in its project to provide internet access to people living in remote parts of the world with the first full-scale test flight of Aquila, a high-altitude unmanned, solar-powered aircraft.
When complete, the drone will be able to circle a region up to 60 miles in diameter and beam internet connectivity down from an altitude of more than 60,000ft using laser communications and millimeter wave radio systems.
Jay Parikh, global head of engineering and infrastructure for Facebook said, “Aquila is designed to be hyper efficient, so it can fly for up to three months at a time. The aircraft has the wingspan of an airliner, but at cruising speed it will consume only 5,000W— the same amount as three hair dryers, or a high-end microwave.”
This first test flight was conducted at low-altitudes, and it was so successful that Aquila was flown for more than 90 minutes — three times longer than originally planned. Verification was made to several performance models and components, including aerodynamics, batteries, control systems, and crew training. Eventually the craft will be flown on tests above 60,000ft.
July 22, 2016