Facebook’s solar-powered internet plane takes flight

   21st Jul 2016

Aquila drone, which at cruising speed uses the same wattage as three hairdryers, uses lasers to beam internet to remote regions

The Aquila Facebook plane
The Aquila Facebook plane will be part of a fleet providing internet access to parts of sub-Saharan Africa and beyond. Photograph: Facebook

The Aquila drone has the wingspan of an airliner but weighs less than a car. When cruising it consumes just 5,000 watts – the same as three hairdryers or a powerful microwave.

Facebook plane
The final adjustments are made to the drone before takeoff. Photograph: Facebook

 

The first flight took place on 28 June in Arizona. Facebook said the test went better than expected and that Aquila’s 96-minute flight was three times longer than planned.

Aquila was developed in Bridgwater, Somerset, by Ascenta, a designer of solar-powered drones that Facebook bought in March 2014. The drone, designed to fly non-stop for three months, will use lasers to beam down internet access to remote areas without online capacity.

The Aquila drone.
The Aquila drone ascends from the runway. Photograph: Facebook

 

Facebook installed a team of engineers at Bridgwater from fields of expertise including aerospace, avionics and software and who had previously worked at organisations such as Nasa, Boeing, and the Royal Air Force.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, revealed in March 2015 that the company had been testing drones in the skies over the UK.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his team watch the drone take flight.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his team watch the drone take flight. Photograph: Facebook

Facebook intends Aquila to be part of a fleet of planes that will provide the internet to 4 billion people in sub-Saharan Africa and other remote regions that do not have access currently.

Jay Parikh, Facebook’s head of engineering and infrastructure, said in a blog: “We’re encouraged by this first successful flight, but we have a lot of work ahead of us … In our next tests, we will fly Aquila faster, higher and longer, eventually taking it above 60,000 feet.”

Article By:
BACK TO ALL POSTS