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.