Facebook's internet drone reaches new heights with first successful landing

Facebook's internet-beaming autonomous drone Aquila has completed a successful second full-scale test flight, the company announced today. 

While the solar-powered aircraft, designed to fly non-stop for 60-90 days at high altitudes, flew once before, the first flight ended in a crash landing. This time, Aquila "landed perfectly."

This second flight took place on May 22 and lasted one hour and 46 minutes. The team constructed a special landing area for Aquila, and having made adjustments including adding wing spoilers, modifying the craft's autopilot software and locking the propellers horizontally before landing, were able to pull off a smooth landing.

This is especially impressive because the lightweight Aquila, which has a wingspan wider than a Boeing 737, lacks traditional landing gear; it basically lands on pads made of Kevlar as it skids to a halt.

According to Facebook, everything except the propeller locking function worked as it should have.

One standout stat is that Aquila's climb rate was almost twice as fast as the first flight at 180 feet per minute, attributable to the changes Facebook implemented. Facebook didn't provide a peak altitude, but said the craft reached at least 3,000 feet before continuing to climb.

There's still more work to be done before Aquila is beaming internet to remote parts of the world, but this is a huge step forward for Facebook in its quest to connect everyone. 

The social network turned all-encompassing tech company has forged ahead with its plans to deliver internet connectivity to more people, which is part of its newly revised mission statement to build community and bring the world closer together.

Aquila's flight is an important milestone for these kinds of drone aircraft, and an even bigger one for Facebook. 

Michelle Fitzsimmons

Michelle was previously a news editor at TechRadar, leading consumer tech news and reviews. Michelle is now a Content Strategist at Facebook.  A versatile, highly effective content writer and skilled editor with a keen eye for detail, Michelle is a collaborative problem solver and covered everything from smartwatches and microprocessors to VR and self-driving cars.