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Facebook Took Its Giant Internet Drone On Its First Test Flight (fastcompany.com) 43

An anonymous reader writes: A year ago, Facebook unveiled Aquila, its effort to put giant drones in the skies to beam Internet connectivity to areas in the developing world without mobile broadband Internet. Today, the company announced it has completed the first full-scale test of its Aquila drone, after months of testing one-fifth-size models. On June 28, the experimental aircraft (featuring a V-shaped wingspan the width of a Boeing 737) took off from the Yuma Proving Grounds in Yuma, Arizona, and flew for 96 minutes at low altitude, as CEO Mark Zuckerberg and many others watched in the dawn sunlight.. Possibly years of work remain before Facebook's connectivity effort fully takes off, according to a head engineer, including figuring out how to keep the drones aloft for hours at a time, and how to effectively send Internet with lasers.Quartz points out that Facebook may not have been given the permission to test the drones. From the article:Earlier this year, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) finalized its regulations for flying commercial drones in the US. These regulations, which require commercial drones to be kept within the line of sight of the person flying the drone, and that the drones be kept below 400 feet, do not go into effect until August. Prior to these regulations, any company wishing to fly or test drones outdoors in the US required an exemption from the FAA, called a Section 333. Quartz checked with the FAA last year to ask whether Facebook had one of these exemptions, and was told it did not. (We've asked the FAA again, and Facebook, to see if the company has since received permission to fly drones in the US.) The FAA has started to fine some companies that operate drones commercially without an exemption, including a nearly $2 million fine for a company that was flying drones over people in New York and Chicago without permission.
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Facebook Took Its Giant Internet Drone On Its First Test Flight

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  • by HBI ( 604924 ) on Thursday July 21, 2016 @01:48PM (#52556087) Journal

    Why would you use a heavier-than-air craft to essentially hover?

    Wouldn't an aerostat accomplish the same goal at a much lower cost, and lower risk of bodily harm should it fall from the sky? I mean, assuming you aren't retarded like the Army and let it break its tether.

    • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Thursday July 21, 2016 @02:05PM (#52556215) Journal

      Why would you use a heavier-than-air craft to essentially hover? Wouldn't an aerostat accomplish the same goal at a much lower cost, and lower risk of bodily harm should it fall from the sky?

      I don't know why they chose it. Here's my take:

      An aerostat requires tethers, which are points of failure, and has enormous wind drag. Lose the tether(s) and you lose control. Then you have a large, failing, floating device at the mercy of the winds, dragging first broken tethers, then its own large structure, on an uncontrolled path along the ground, wreaking unknown havoc.

      A powered heavier-than-air (but still ultralight) has little drag and can also be made to change locations easily. With good design, if it begins to accumulate failures that jeopardize its continued operational ability, it can be made to fly to a repair site and land - after its backup has arrived to take its place.

      If you have catastrophic events - like huricaines, tornadoes, or forest firestoms - it can easily be moved away (to land for shelter or fly around or above the storm) and brought back when the environment is calmer. You don't even have to take it out of service. Just fly it above the tropopause. The stratosphere is probably a good place for it to operate anyhow: Negligible weather, no cloud shadows for solar-powered planes, and gives you a lot of coverage per drone. (Balloons can get there, too, easily. But 50,000 feet or so is a LOT of tether.)

      • by sabri ( 584428 )

        An aerostat requires tethers

        Which means that you now have a semi-unpredictable obstruction from 0ft to 60000ft that cannot easily be seen by pilots of other aircraft. You can map it out on a chart, but then you'll have to say "obstruction from point a with a potential circumference of xx miles" since it will never point straight up but bend in a curve. It will also have to go through various classes of airspace, including class A.

        I'm quite sure that the average folks on the flight deck of your 737/A320 do not expect any obstacles w

    • Why would you use a heavier-than-air craft to essentially hover? Wouldn't an aerostat accomplish the same goal at a much lower cost, and lower risk of bodily harm should it fall from the sky?

      A vehicle has to fly faster than the local wind to stay stationary over one spot. So, you are talking about a powered vehicle in any case, regardless of whether it's an aerostat or an airplane.

      Since you have to be powered anyway, you might as well use the power for lift.

      • My idea would just be to incorporate both methods.
        • My idea would just be to incorporate both methods.

          And thereby you'd be likely to make a vehicle with all of the disadvantages of an aerostat, and all of the disadvantages of an airplane.

          • Probably, I was just picturing a miniature Zeppelin, but only inflate when in need of long hover times.
    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by Frosty Piss ( 770223 ) *

      Why would you use a heavier-than-air craft to essentially hover?

      Let me explain this to you:

      This has nothing to do with drones and everything to do with FACEBOOK! FACEBOOK! FACEBOOK!

      Just as Amazon got so much free press about drone delivery - that cannot possibly happen for years if at all - this is the work of rich boys with expensive toys that love publicity.

      If there is any commercial as in for profit RICH BOY COMPANY that has done realistic experimentation, look at Google.

      As for Zuckerberg? Self-pleasuring, most likely in front of a mirror.

    • by Thagg ( 9904 ) <thadbeier@gmail.com> on Thursday July 21, 2016 @04:04PM (#52556987) Journal

      My believe is that they intend to fly hundreds of these. If you have 100 tethers from 0 to 60,000 ft or so, I believe that you would have many aircraft accidents. Recall that the British used tethered balloons to protect themselves from German air raids. There is no way that you could see those tethers while flying, until you were very close to them -- then it would be too late to avoid.

      There are a dozen or so tethered balloons around the border of the US now, so far there have been no incidents that I know of -- but the border is a place where pilots are very observant. Also, the balloons are only at about 10,000 ft or so, so most planes are far higher.

  • I presume these things essentially crash land when it's time to bring them down? Which is why it wasn't shown the video. It would be extremely difficult to try and land one on a moving landing assembly.

  • "regulations for flying commercial drones "

    So, if it's a research aircraft which has no current role in the exchange of goods/services/money, what makes it commercial?
    • If i grow my own crops on my own land for my own consumption, how does that effect inter-state commerce...
      • Re:Commercial? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by msauve ( 701917 ) on Thursday July 21, 2016 @02:24PM (#52556329)
        Read Wickard v Filburn for an explanation, if it's not already obvious. The real question is, is something which affects interstate commerce itself interstate commerce? If I poke you in the eye, I'm affecting you, but that doesn't make me you. The Constitutional power is over interstate commerce, not things which affect it. That's the fundamental flaw in our legal system which allows the feds to claim powers they don't actually have.
    • So, if it's a research aircraft which has no current role in the exchange of goods/services/money, what makes it commercial?

      It is owned and operated by a commercial venture.

      It's not a public aircraft. It's not being operated for "hobby", and it is much larger than the hobby rules permit. It is much larger than the part 107 rules will allow. It requires either a 333 or COA.

      The easiest solution was for Facebook to hire out the "research" to one of the many true research facilities who already have COA or 333 to cover them.

      • by msauve ( 701917 )
        "It is owned and operated by a commercial venture."

        So, when a Facebook employee microwaves their lunch at work, Facebook becomes subject to the regulations which apply to commercial restaurants? The electrical wiring inside their buildings means they're an electric utility subject to utility regulation? The shit in their employee's colons means they need a license for commercial waste hauling?
        • So, when a Facebook employee microwaves their lunch at work, Facebook becomes subject to the regulations which apply to commercial restaurants?

          Don't be stupid. Nothing in the law defines a microwave in a break room as "commercial restaurant."

          Operating a commercially owned aircraft in the US airspace requires adherence to FAA regulations. Something with a wingspan on the order of a 747 isn't a hobby aircraft, and until Facebook becomes a government agency it's not public. That leaves one category of rules to follow.

          • Re:Commercial? (Score:4, Informative)

            by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Thursday July 21, 2016 @03:53PM (#52556933)

            Operating a commercially owned aircraft in the US airspace requires adherence to FAA regulations.

            Actually, no, it does not. Military aircraft are not subject to FAA regulations in any way.

            This test was done at the Yuma Proving Ground, which is a US Army facility. The FAA does not control airspace in military operating areas (MOAs), which Yuma is one of. Basically, the US Army can fly whatever the hell it wants in places like that, and the FAA has no authority to tell them otherwise.

            • Operating a commercially owned aircraft in the US airspace requires adherence to FAA regulations.

              Actually, no, it does not. Military aircraft are not subject to FAA regulations in any way.

              Military aircraft are not commercially owned. Read all the words.

              The FAA does not control airspace in military operating areas (MOAs), which Yuma is one of.

              You are wrong.

              • No, you're wrong. If you have a citation, then bring it.

                I guess according to you, the people in the US Army at Yuma don't know how to run their own facility.

                • Military aircraft are owned by the US Government. Aircraft owned by the US Government are not commercial aircraft. They are public. What citation do you need to tell you that simple fact? Here, I'll google it for you, and spell it out. This [faa.gov] is just one cite. It took five seconds by googling "public aircraft definition". (And before you put another foot in it, "commercial" is one kind of "civil" aviation, which is what the FAA refers to.)

                  I guess according to you, the people in the US Army at Yuma don't know how to run their own facility.

                  Now you are being stupid, because you know I didn't say that. I replie

          • by msauve ( 701917 )
            "Don't be stupid. Nothing in the law defines a microwave in a break room as "commercial restaurant.""

            Why would I mimic you, who argues by begging the question?

            "Operating a commercially owned aircraft in the US airspace requires adherence to FAA regulations."

            ...and who doesn't even know what commerce is? "Commercially owned" != "commercial."
            • ...and who doesn't even know what commerce is? "Commercially owned" != "commercial."

              Commercially owned and operated aircraft are civil aviation. It doesn't matter how much money Facebook is making by flying that UAS. The question wasn't begged, it was answered straight up. It's the "microwave in a break room" nonsense that is the problem, and that was answered directly, too.

              There's three classes of regulation. If it ain't hobby, and it ain't public, guess what that leaves?

              • by msauve ( 701917 )
                You really are challenged. The regulations do not specifically define "commercial aircraft," but they do make it clear what "commercial" means:

                Commercial operator means a person who, for compensation or hire, engages in the carriage by aircraft in air commerce of persons or property, ... Where it is doubtful that an operation is for "compensation or hire", the test applied is whether the carriage by air is merely incidental to the person's other business or is, in itself, a major enterprise for profit.

                -14 C

      • by tsqr ( 808554 )

        It's not a public aircraft. It's not being operated for "hobby", and it is much larger than the hobby rules permit. It is much larger than the part 107 rules will allow. It requires either a 333 or COA.

        The easiest solution was for Facebook to hire out the "research" to one of the many true research facilities who already have COA or 333 to cover them.

        Exactly. Yuma Proving Grounds is operated by the US Army Test and Evaluation Command; they regularly provide test services to non DoD/private industry.

  • Anyone got links for me on DIY surface-to-air missiles? It's bad enough that the Internet is polluted with Facebook, I'll be damned if my airspace is going to be polluted with it too.
  • UAV internet is vapourware. A multihop wifi with high gain antennas costs a million times less for a megabit, works, and is there right now.
  • If they were granted permission to test at Yuma, that is all the approval they needed to do so under the existing military flight privileges.

  • Will it also beam reliable power and political stability? There's a reason these areas don't have broadband already.
  • Not sure why the article goes into all the FAA rules. Other than for ease of domestic testing, these things are not really designed to be used in the US, but rather in countries that lack regular internet connectivity (which are unlikely to have any such rules anyway).

    I'm somewhat critical if this is really even a possibility, but curious at least from a technical standpoint of how it might be done. Most specifically the power and transmission requirements along with weight restrictions that must be in plac

You mean you didn't *know* she was off making lots of little phone companies?

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