Aquila: Facebook Solar Powered Drone to Provide Internet Access in Remote Locations

Aquila: Facebook Solar Powered Drone to Provide Internet Access in Remote Locations

Jul 21, 2016 @ 20:45 | 

To provide the Internet access in remote locations Facebook is working on solar powered unmanned aerial vehicle – Aquila and it successfully completed first test flight. 

To provide the Internet access in remote locations Facebook is working on solar powered unmanned aerial vehicle – Aquila. This innovative plane has the wingspan of an airliner but weighs less than a small car and flies on roughly the power of three blow-dryers. Facebook Connectivity Lab announced that Aquila has successfully completed first test flight. Once they are fully operational, these high-altitude planes will stay airborne for up to 90 days at a time and beam broadband coverage to a 60-mile-wide area on the ground, helping to open the opportunities of the internet to people in under connected regions.


Today 1.6 billion people live in regions that don’t have access to a mobile broadband network. Connecting these remote parts of the world with existing technologies such as buried optical fiber or microwave links on towers is often cost-prohibitive. That’s why Facebook is developing such innovative aircrafts that provide cost effective internet access in remote locations.

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Aquila is a solar power aircraft but the first trial was conducted with only battery powers to test sensor performance and endurance. During first trial flight engineers collected data on numerous aspects of Aquila’s performance, including the autopilot, motors, batteries, radios, ground station, displays, basic aerodynamic handling, structural viability, and crew training.

Testing Aquila

In the first flight trial engineers focused on following aspects:

Takeoff: Aquila’s design is optimized for minimal mass, so it does not include traditional takeoff and landing gear. The first part of test involved orchestrating a new kind of takeoff.

Aerodynamic model: Aquila will need to operate in both cold, thin air at high altitude and warm, thick air at low altitude. The air is 10x more dense at sea level than at cruising altitude, and the aerodynamics of the plane’s wings and propellers vary greatly over that range. The full-scale flight suggests that aerodynamic model is in line with predicted value.

Battery and power performance: While Aquila’s power system will eventually include solar cells, first few test aircraft are powered only by batteries to give us early indications about their aerodynamic performance, handling qualities, and autopilot performance, and to verify structural models. And test results are in line with predicted value.

Autopilot performance model: During trial autopilot’s performance was stable and reliable. Autopilot was able to handle automatic takeoff and landing.

Real-world conditions: Definitely real world scenario is totally different than simulation and testing team experience the some structural failure in aircraft while landing.

Future Challenges of Aquila:

  1. Getting enough sun. For a solar-powered airplane to work, enough energy must be collected during daylight hours to operate for the full 24-hour day.
  2. Batteries. Keeping the airplane aloft on a long winter night requires a lot of stored energy.
  3. Size and speed. Aquila has a wingspan comparable to a commercial airliner’s but weighs only one-third as much as a car. This ratio of weight to surface area means that Aquila is able to fly much slower than a typical airplane of the same size — about 25 mph at sea level, compared with 50 mph for a glider or more than 200 mph for a commercial airliner. Such stark differences challenge many of the assumptions relied upon in aeronautical engineering.
  4. New cost paradigms. For Aquila to succeed, it needs to be an economically viable alternative to current network infrastructure

  • Keywords: Aquila, Unmanned Aerial vehicle, Solar Power, Aerodynamics, Autopilot
  • Image: Facebook


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