One day soon you may access the internet via a wireless-internet-beaming plane rather than fiber optic cable.
Facebook wants to blanket the world with internet using a fleet of solar-powered aircraft called Aquila, and after two years of engineering and scale-model flights, the company has finally completed its first full-scale test flight. It reported on Thursday that on 28 June it conducted a low-altitude test flight that lasted for 96 minutes - more than three times its planned mission length.
The test flight provided Facebook's aeronautics team with data on Aquila's performance, including "the autopilot, motors, batteries, radios, ground station, displays, basic aerodynamic handling, structural viability, and crew training," Facebook said. The company published a blog post, which you can read here, to detail some of its early learnings from the test flight and the data it collected.
The full-size Aquila, which can fly at 60,000 feet on 5,000 watts of power (equivalent to three hair dryers, apparently), has the wingspan "comparable to a commercial airliner's, but weighs only one-third as much as a car". Although it was in the air for less than two hours, it'll eventually remain airborne for months to transmit wireless signal between other aircraft and the ground.
The aircraft's first full-scale test flight was deemed a success, although it had a structural failure just before landing. It was able to still stick the landing, however. You can see the action unfold for yourself, as Aquila was loaded with cameras so Facebook could release a promo video.
Over next several months, Facebook plans to continue studying the data from this initial flight and conduct more test flights.
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