Last month, it was revealed that the National Transportation Safety Board has launched an investigation over Facebook's Aquila drone that crashed during its first test flight back in June.
The test flight, which was held in Yuma, Arizona, saw the Aquila drone in the air for the first time. The drone is part of Facebook's ambitious plan of bringing the global population online, as Aquila is capable of beaming down internet connections from heights of more than 60,000 feet and across areas covering diameters of 60 miles.
Facebook has not shared much detail regarding the crash that happened in the Aquila's first test flight, only that it was a structural failure that happened right before the drone landed.
Why Did The Aquila Drone Crash?
The report that shared the findings of the NTSB on the Aquila's crash in June started off by describing what happened during the first test flight of the drone. According to the regulator, the Aquila suffered a structural failure while in flight but on its final approach. The drone was substantially damaged, but thankfully, there were no injuries caused by the incident.
NTSB's investigation indicated that the ultimate cause of the said structural failure was wind that the Aquila team had not anticipated during the time of testing. The drone's autopilot attempted to correct the Aquila's path for landing, but the rough conditions resulted in the deformation and failure of the right wing, leading to the drone's crash landing.
Challenges For Facebook's Aquila
Facebook said that it had expected the Aquila to receive damage upon landing from its first test flight, though the company assumed that it would be the drone's skids and propellers that would be taking a hit.
The structural failure that the Aquila suffered resulting in the crash also showed a critical error in the autopilot software of the drone, one which has already been corrected.
In future versions of the drone, Facebook said that it will be using air brakes or spoilers to help the Aquila's autopilot system handle landings better, as well as prevent the autopilot from reaching certain speeds while in the process of landing.
The investigation into the Aquila's crash revealed just one of the many challenges that Facebook will encounter as it develops the high-altitude, solar-powered drone.
Aquila software development head Yael Maguire, however, said that the version of the Aquila drone that was used for its first test flight was still a prototype, which meant that the team was not really optimizing landing yet. The final version of the drone, however, will surely be able to come down with safe landings, said Facebook global head of engineering and infrastructure Jay Parikh.