Aquila, the first high-altitude solar drone designed by Facebook to connect remote areas to the Internet, completed its full-scale test flight on June 28, 2016 and was announced over three weeks later. The Aquila, meaning “the Eagle”, has a wing span of a Boeing 737 and weighs less than a Prius. The main goal of the test flight was to prove the concept and attest that the aircraft is able to take off, stabilize its flight, remain in the air, and land safely. The aircraft remained airborne for 96 minutes—three times longer than planned. This is success for an unfinished machine.
Another goal with the test flight was to obtain necessary data to help engineers improve the model. Aquila’s engineers still face many challenges, including laser beams for data transmission, solar panels and batteries able to power up the drone, flight duty cycle for drones and separate elements as the drone is supposed to work in rough conditions for long time (90 days) with a payload.
Although Aquila is far from being finished, this flight is a big step towards achieving Internet access for everyone, everywhere. It also signifies a major advancement in drone technologies and drone apps.