Known as Aquila, the aircraft is Facebook’s answer to the problem of Internet connectivity for the over four billion people around the world who are not yet online.
Aquila, which means Eagle in Latin, has the wingspan of an airplane but at cruising speed will consume only 5,000 watts – the same amount as three hair dryers, or a high-end microwave.
It was designed to stay up in the air for months (three precisely) at a time, circle a region of up to 60 miles in diameter and beam down Internet to communities below it using laser communications and millimetre wave systems.
The test flight, which was carried out on June 28 in Yuma, Arizona, was a low-altitude flight and it was so successful the aircraft had to be flown for more than 90 minutes – three times longer than originally planned.
During the flight, several performance models and components, including aerodynamics, batteries, control systems, and crew training were verified.
In the coming months and years, Facebook will push Aquila to the limits in a lengthy series of tests to further prove out the full capacity of the design.
Specifically, Aquila will be flown faster, higher and longer, eventually taking it above 60,000 feet.
Speaking on the milestone and importance of Aquila, Global Head of Engineering and Infrastructure at Facebook, Jay Parikh said, “…we believe this work has never been more important. New technologies like Aquila have the potential to bring access, voice and opportunity to billions of people around the world, and do so faster and more cost-effectively than has ever been possible before.”
The successful test flight of the Aquila is a huge milestone for Facebook, and it will give its quest of connecting the world and making it open through the Internet a much needed fillip.