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Facebook’s solar-powered internet drone Aquila takes flight

Social media network Facebook has not been shy in its ambitions to distribute internet access across the globe and today (Thursday 21 July) it has made great strides in doing so with the successful test flight of a light-weight, solar-powered drone.

The company is looking to get internet distributing drones in the air to provide web access where it would be otherwise inadvisable or expensive to build the infrastructure.

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg announced the drone on the network, garnering hundreds of thousands of views within the first hour.

Jay Parikh, global head of engineering and infrastructure, said: “Internet access can offer life-changing opportunities and experiences to all of us, but there are still 4 billion people without it. That’s 60 per cent of the global population.”

The company’s solution is the Aquila, a high-altitude unmanned aircraft that circles an area 60 miles in diameter (for up to three months without landing) from an altitude of 60,000.

Boasting the wingspan of an airliner it consumes around the same amount of energy as “three hair dryers, or a high-end microwave”.

The first flight of the fully-sized Aquila lasted 90 minutes. The company has in its sights the two week world record set by solar-powered unmanned flight Qinetiq Zephyr.

Parikh concluded: “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.”