Wind gusts found Aquila’s Achilles heel in “cell site” solar plane crash

In Featured News by Wireless Estimator

On June 28, 2016, Facebook Connectivity Lab launched its solar powered Aquila aircraft to set the company’s ability to provide broadband coverage to a 60-mile-wide area on the ground in underconnected regions.

Three weeks later, Facebook acknowledged that the operation was successful, but the patient died – or was severely injured — when their airplane had a structural wing failure shortly before it landed after a fruitful first flight that lasted 96 minutes.

On Dec. 16, 2016, the National Safety Transportation Safety Board issued its report after studying the crash and, although investigators did not travel to the test location, they beleive that the probable cause of the accident was due to “A structural failure of the wing as a result of exceeding the airspeed envelope due to wind gusts which were beyond the capabilities of the autopilot. Contributing to the accident was an insufficient amount of drag to track the glideslope in the presence of atmospheric disturbances.”

The Cliffs Notes analysis: winds were at 18 knots at the time of landing, over double above the 7 knots engineers had anticipated for that flight, and the autopilot caused the drone’s nose to compensate, causing it to fly faster than its normal speed of 25 miles per hour, twisting the aircraft’s right wing.

Facebook has said that the failure can be addressed and they said to prove out the full capacity of the design, “we will continue to push the plane to its limits under more extreme conditions in a lengthy series of tests.”

On Sept. 1, 2016, Facebook suffered a huge setback to the company’s internet serving ventures when a satellite was destroyed when a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blew up prior to launch at Cape Canaveral, Fla.

The satellite, intended to serve Sub-Saharan Africa, was estimated to have cost anywhere between $95 and $200 million.