Wi-Fi hotspot drone could bring global internet access to millions.
Facebook execs have celebrated the successful launch of their massive Wi-Fi hotspot drone, which crashed during the previous flight.
The successful test flight is a major step toward Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s goal of being able to beam internet access to some of the remotest parts of the world.
The previous test flight of the ‘Aquila’ drone ended dramatically last December when the prototype drone crashed when it attempted to land. “The improvements we implemented based on Aquila’s performance during its first test flight made a significant difference in this flight,” said Facebook.
“On June 28th, we completed the first successful flight of Aquila – our solar-powered plane that will beam Internet to remote parts of the world and eventually break the record for longest unmanned aircraft flight,” wrote Zuckerberg in a Facebook blog post. “The flight took place before dawn in Yuma, Arizona. Our original mission was to fly Aquila for 30 minutes, but things went so well that we decided to keep the plane up for 96 minutes. We gathered lots of data about our models and the aircraft structure – and after two years of development, it was emotional to see Aquila actually get off the ground.”
Facebook’s long-term plan is to eventually construct an entire fleet of Aquila drones, and provide Internet access to some four billion people around the world who are currently have no internet access, or limited connectivity.
“No one has ever built an unmanned aeroplane that will fly for months at a time, so we need to tune every detail to get this right,” Zuckerbeg added in his blog post. Facebook eventually wants its fleet of Aquila drones to fly at 60,000 feet and stay in the air for months at a time.
This is no small feat for the social media tech giant to try and accomplish. The prototype Aquila drone weighs about 1,000 pounds (450 kilograms) and has a longer wingspan than a Boeing 737. It’s estimated top speed at altitude is expected to be around 80 miles per hour. The Aquila will run mostly on autopilot, but there are manned ground crews to manage certain manoeuvres, and also take control should the need ever arise.
“Connecting people through high-altitude solar-powered aircraft is an audacious goal, but milestones like this flight make the months of hard work worth it,” said Martin Luis Gomez, Facebook’s director of aeronautical platforms.