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Facebook shows off its solar-powered drone

Facebook Aquila drone
Facebook’s Aquila drone soars over Arizona’s Yuma Proving Ground. (Credit: Facebook)

After more than a year of development, Facebook unveiled a video showing the first flight of its full-scale Aquila drone, which is designed to stay aloft for months and potentially connect billions of users to the internet.

A one-fifth-scale version of the pilotless plane has been undergoing flight tests for months, but the full-scale Aquila – with a wingspan wider than that of a Boeing 737 jet – had its first outing over the Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona on June 28. The details came out today in a posting by Jay Parikh, Facebook’s global head of engineering and infrastructure, and in an inside report from The Verge.

“This first functional check was a low-altitude flight, and it was so successful that we ended up flying Aquila for more than 90 minutes — three times longer than originally planned,” Parikh said.

Eventually, the Aquila is meant to fly for as long as three months at a time, powered day and night by solar cells and batteries. Facebook says it weighs only a third as much as an electric car, and is designed to use a mere 5,000 watts of power to stay in the air and relay data.

“When complete, Aquila will be able to circle a region up to 60 miles in diameter, beaming connectivity down from an altitude of more than 60,000 feet using laser communications and millimeter wave systems,” Parikh said.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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