Social media giant Facebook has just completed its second successful test of a solar-powered drone that the company hopes will one day provide worldwide internet access. An earlier attempt ignominiously ended in a crash landing.
According to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Aquila – the drone’s codename, which means “eagle” in Latin – is part of a long-term plan to provide internet access to the 4 billion people across the globe who are currently deprived of it.
“When Aquila is ready, it will be a fleet of solar-powered planes that will beam internet connectivity across the world,” he wrote Thursday on his own social media platform.
The impressive drone weighs a whopping half-ton and has a wingspan longer than even a Boeing 747 jet. Although it is mostly autopiloted, manned ground crews were on hand to perform certain intricate maneuvers.
The test flight took place at Yuma Proving Ground, where engineers installed the drone with additional sensors, new spoilers, and a horizontal propeller after learning from the issues that caused their previous model to crash in December.
Aquila successfully remained in the air for one hour and 46 minutes and climbed to an altitude of 3,000 feet, with Facebook’s engineering team keeping running a live stream of the drone from a helicopter that was following it.
“The improvements we implemented based on Aquila’s performance during its first test flight made a significant difference in this flight,” said Martin Luis Gomez, Facebook’s director of aeronautical platforms.
Zuckerberg also expressed optimism about the second test flight’s success.
“We successfully gathered a lot of data to help us optimize Aquila’s efficiency,” he said. “No one has ever built an unmanned airplane that will fly for months at a time, so we need to tune every detail to get this right.”