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Why did Facebook build a Boeing 737-sized solar-powered drone?

Facebook may have abandoned its attempts to bring affordable Internet access to the masses using special satellites, but now the company is trying to do the same thing using solar-powered drones instead. Known as Aquila, this behemoth of a drone is roughly the same size as a Boeing 737 and is powered entirely by sunlight. Facebook has just finished developing the drone and hopes to begin actual flight tests by the end of the year.

Facebook has built the first of what it hopes will be a large fleet of solar-powered drones to bring Internet connectivity to hundreds of millions of people beyond the reach of today’s telecommunications infrastructure. Aquila, as the V-shaped carbon fiber craft is known, is powered by two propellers and has a wingspan of about 42 meters, roughly equivalent to a Boeing 737 airliner. When covered in solar panels and loaded with communications gear needed to beam down wireless Internet connectivity, it should weigh only a little over 400 kilograms (about 900 pounds), roughly one-third of a Toyota Prius. Facebook has not yet flown the recently completed craft but has been testing one-tenth scale versions over the U.K. since March. The full-size Aquila is undergoing structural tests and should begin flight tests before the end of this year.

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