With a wider wingspan than a Boeing 737, Facebook’s Aquila—a remote-controlled, solar-powered drone intended to bring internet to remote parts of the world—has successfully landed since its first test run this time last year.
Aquila, which is Latin for eagle, has a slim design with a wingspan over 130 feet wide. Facebook’s aim was for Aquila to “break the record for the longest unmanned aircraft flight.” To maximize Aquila’s time in the sky, Aquila’s body is mainly composed of carbon fiber, making it weigh less than 1,000 pounds. For the most part, Aquila is self-sufficient but it relies on a ground crew, consisting of engineers, pilots and technicians who direct, maintain and monitor the aircraft. The crew also has the ability to directly track Aquila or send it on a GPS-based route.
In the first run, Facebook only planned to fly Aquila for 30 minutes, but after it performed incredibly well, they left Aquila up in the air for 96 minutes until the plane was scheduled to land. When Aquila landed, it ended in failure on a structural basis, causing Facebook to have to backtrack on Aquila’s design.
For Aquila’s second flight, Facebook took notes from Aquila’s first to make proper modifications, such as adding “spoilers” to the wings to increase drag and lessen lift during the landing process. Aquila engineers added new sensors to the body, put in new radios, upgraded the autopilot software, smoothed out the exterior, and included a horizontal propeller stopping mechanism to ease the landing process even more.
Martin Luiz Gomez, Facebook‘s director of aeronautical platforms, says Aquila has “no landing gear in the traditional sense. Aquila lands solely on Kevlar pads bonded to the bottom of the motor pods.”
For its second test flight, Aquila lasted in the air for 46 minutes before Aquila “landed perfectly” according to Gomez. Facebook seeks to break the record of the longest flight of an unmanned aircraft, but for now, has plans on improving Aquila to break said record. Zuckerburg says he dreams one day Facebook will have a fleet of Aquilas flying over 60,000 feet in the air, communicating with one another using lasers and staying up for months at a time—a flight that has never been done before.
Facebook added a post to their engineering page about the second flight here.
[via Composites Manufacturing]