The Connectivity Lab at Facebook has taken a massive step in realising the social network’s plan to connect the last 4 billion people to the internet with the first successful flight of Aquila.

Aquila is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that will cruise at an altitude between 18km and 27km. At this altitude, Aquila will send wireless internet to a region below up to 100km wide. This internet connectivity is sent to the ground using laser communications and millimeter wave systems.

At it's cruising altitude Aquila will deliver internet to areas 100km wide.
At it’s cruising altitude Aquila will deliver internet to areas 100km wide.

According to a statement by Facebook, Aquila will remain at its cruising altitude for up to three months. A rather impressive claim give that the current record for the longest unmanned solar-powered flight is held by the Zephyr 7 which remained airborne for more than two weeks. Aquila’s test flight only lasted 90 minutes.

To break the current record Aquila will use its massive wingspan loaded with solar panels to cruise at about 128kph, a speed Facebook says will keep Aquila airborne for a quarter of the year. That low speed also brings the total power draw of the UAV down to around the same amount that three hairdryers would use, about 5 000 watts.

Up until this point the social network giant has been testing 1/5th scale versions of the plane. Despite the successful flight, there is still a long way to go before we have internet from beyond the clouds.

“Facebook will push Aquila to the limits in a lengthy series of tests in the coming months and years. As encouraging as the first successful flight is, there is still plenty of work to be done,” the firm said in a statement.

There’s also the matter of bringing governments and network operators on board to deploy these internet planes in areas that desperately need internet access.

Facebook’s Global Head of Engineering and Infrastructure, Jay Parikh spoke about how Aquila will continue to drive Facebook’s goal of bringing internet access to everybody. “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.”

[Source & Images – Facebook]
Brendyn Lotz writes news, reviews, and opinion pieces for Hypertext. His interests include SMEs, innovation on the African continent, cybersecurity, blockchain, games, geek culture and YouTube.