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Facebook’s Solar-Powered Plane Undergoes First Official Test Flight

The Aquila, a solar-powered aircraft that Facebook hopes can provide Internet access, took off on its first official test flight, according to Wired on Thursday.

The plane was able to fly successfully for a little over an hour-and-a-half during the flight that took place on 28 June in restricted airspace of a U.S. Army airfield at Yuma, Arizona.

Martin Gomez, one of the Facebook technicians working on Aquila, explained that the flight was only planned for thirty minutes, but was extended by three times as long. As a result, engineers were able to gather key data on the plane’s four motors, its autopilot system, its batteries, and its radios.

As described in TechCrunch, the aircraft has a longer wingspan that a Boeing 737, but its lithium ion batteries uses less energy than three hair dryers. Hence, the greater energy efficiency can help the Aquila reach its goal of flying for ninety-day periods while providing Internet coverage to areas sixty miles wide.

Prior to Aquila, Facebook tested twenty-eight prototypes in the United States and Great Britain. Future models could fly for months at a time, rely on solar power, reach heights of up to 90,000 feet and provide mobile broadband access to an estimated 1.6 million people.

Facebook anticipates giving away the blueprints for its aircraft and other Internet devices in order to allow governments and private firms to help spread access to isolated areas. The planes could also send broadband directly to mobile phones or to a terrestrial base station that would then send the signal to devices.

The test flight was not entirely flawless, however, as Aquila suffered what was described as “structural failure” just before landing. Also, planners will need to figure out a viable system to launch the aircraft so that they may fly at least 60,000 feet in the air. Subsequent tests will add to Aquila the communications payload that will beam Internet signals to the ground.

By Erwin Cifuentes for Oilprice.com

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