Facebook has taken a major step towards creating a drone designed to beam internet access to remote areas of the world.
The company has completed the second full-scale test flight of its enormous Aquila drone, but managed to land it a lot more smoothly this time around.
Aquila’s first successful test flight took place last year, but ended in a crash landing.
The drone, which is solar-powered and has the wingspan of a Boeing 737, flew at 3,000 feet for an hour and 46 minutes.
“We successfully gathered a lot of data to help us optimize Aquila's efficiency,” said Mark Zuckerberg, announcing the test flight.
“When Aquila is ready, it will be a fleet of solar-powered planes that will beam internet connectivity across the world. Today, more than half the world's population -- 4 billion people -- still can't access the internet. One day, Aquila will help change that.”
Aquila flies autonomously, but can also be manually controlled by a flight crew.
Facebook eventually wants the drone to fly at 60,000 feet and stay in the air for months at a time.
“By design, Aquila does nothing fast: It climbs slowly, descends even slower, and when flying upwind moves only at 10-15 mph over the ground. We designed Aquila this way because it is meant to stay in the same area for long periods of time to supply internet access. Aquila is solar-powered and extremely power-efficient — running on the power equivalent of three blow dryers,” said Martin Luis Gomez, Facebook’s director of aeronautical platforms.
Facebook has made several big changes to the drone since it crash-landed in the first test flight, including the addition of new spoilers to the wings, the modification of the autopilot software and the installation of a horizontal propeller stopping mechanism to support a successful landing.
“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,” added Mr Gomez.
“And what is particularly gratifying is that the improvements we implemented based on Aquila's performance during its first test flight made a significant difference in this flight.”
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