Facebook has successfully completed the second test flight of its internet-beaming Aquila drone, which has been designed to deliver free WiFi connectivity in remote areas.
The full-scale test flight took place at the end of May at the Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona. The aircraft flew for a duration of 1 hour and 46 minutes, with a successful take-off and landing.
Last year, Aquila had an unfortunate landing due to a structural fault which severely impacted the drone’s ability to land safely.
The solar-powered drone’s structure has since been modified to ensure that the same issue does not reoccur. This includes the addition of spoilers to increase drag and to reduce lift during the approach to landing.
The Facebook designers also installed a new horizontal propeller stopping system to support a successful landing.
Additionally, the company modified the aircraft’s control and information gathering systems, via improved autopilot software, hundreds of new sensors, and radio systems for the communication subsystem.
According to the social media giant, a smoother finish was also applied to the plane.
The objective of the second test flight was to collect data to redesign the drone’s power supply, battery, and solar panel in order to manage the aircraft’s power requirements.
The team behind the trial flew Aquila at a constant speed, heading, and altitude to monitor the aircraft’s drag. This data will now enable insight into how engineers can best modify future models and predict power requirements for specific flight environments.
Facebook’s Martin Luis Gomez noted in a blog post: ‘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. 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 fight.’
Over the coming months, the Facebook Aquila team plans to take the lessons learnt from this second test flight and continue to progress with the connectivity project.