Yuma Sun

Face­book hopes to de­liver more in­ter­net ac­cess

- BY BLAKE HERZOG @BLAKEHERZO­G Aviation · Facebook · Mark Zuckerberg · Yuma, AZ · Arizona · Boeing 747 · Boeing · National Transportation Safety Board · United States of America · General Motors Corporation · Community Chest · India · Japan · Africa · Kenya · Transportation Safety Board of Canada · Arizona Community Foundation · South Africa

Face­book founder Mark Zucker­berg an­nounced Thurs­day the so­cial net­work ran a sec­ond test flight of its mas­sive, so­lar-pow­ered Aquila drone last month at Yuma Prov­ing Ground, and it was the first that didn’t end in a crash land­ing.

Zucker­berg’s morn­ing post shot quickly around lo­cal so­cial cir­cles, as they rev­eled in an­other af­ter-the-fact re­veal, which came a year and a day af­ter the ini­tial flight of the un­manned air­craft he hopes will de­liver in­ter­net ac­cess to re­mote cor­ners of the world.

Calling it “Aquila’s sec­ond suc­cess­ful flight,” Zucker­berg said, “In this test, it flew for 1 hour and 46 min­utes over the desert and landed smoothly near Yuma, Ari­zona,” he said, us­ing that lo­ca­tion tag, al­though YPG is about 30 miles to the north­west.

He added, “We suc­cess­fully gath­ered a lot of data to help us op­ti­mize Aquila’s ef­fi­ciency. No one has ever built an un­manned air­plane that will fly for months at a time, so we need to tune ev­ery de­tail to get this right.”

The 30-sec­ond video ac­compa-

ny­ing the post showed the V-shaped, pro­pel­ler-driven craft glid­ing over the moun­tains and com­ing to a smooth halt in the sand at YPG.

More de­tails were given by Martin Luis Gomez, Face­book’s di­rec­tor of aero­nau­ti­cal plat­forms, in a blog on the code.face­book. com web­site. He said sev­eral changes had been made to the drone in the past year, in­clud­ing a spoiler on the end of each wing to in­crease drag and de­crease lift and a hor­i­zon­tal pro­pel­ler stop­ping sys­tem, both to smooth out the land­ing.

A smoother fin­ish and hun­dreds of ad­di­tional sen­sors were also added to the air­craft, which weighs about 1,000 pounds and has a longer wing­span than a Boe­ing 747. The drone runs mostly on au­topi­lot, but there are manned ground crews to man­age cer­tain ma­neu­vers.

The flight took off at about 5:30 a.m. and lasted for an hour and 46 min­utes, Gomez said, with the en­gi­neer­ing team watch­ing a live stream from a heli­copter chas­ing the drone. It reached an el­e­va­tion of 3,000 feet.

Much of Gomez’s post was de­voted to de­scrib­ing the land­ing, which went as planned ex­cept three of the four pro­pel­lers didn’t lock in hor­i­zon­tal po­si­tion for the touch­down, as they’d been pro­grammed to do to avoid be­ing dam­aged.

Over­all, the plane suf­fered a few “mi­nor, eas­ily re­pairable dings” from land­ing on a gravel sur­face, a 500-foot cir­cle of level gravel which was the des­ig­nated land­ing pad. Gomez said YPG staff quickly named the site “Aquila Beach.”

Gomez said his team was thrilled about the out­come, es­pe­cially be­cause “the im­prove­ments we im­ple­mented based on Aquila’s per­for­mance dur­ing its first test flight made a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence in this flight.”

The blog and video did not in­di­cate whether Zucker­berg watched the flight in per­son, as he had dur­ing the in­au­gu­ral flight last year.

That ini­tial voy­age was also not con­firmed by Face­book for about a month af­ter it hap­pened, though the news leaked into the Yuma com­mu­nity just as it hap­pened. At the time, it was called a “suc­cess­ful flight” last­ing 90 min­utes, much longer than the half-hour ex­pected. The crash land­ing didn’t be­come pub­lic un­til the Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board re­leased a re­port on the in­ci­dent in De­cem­ber.

The May 22 flight was also done se­cre­tively within the vast hold­ings of YPG, an Army-op­er­ated mil­i­tary test­ing ground for both U.S. and for­eign forces, and also by Gen­eral Mo­tors and some other cor­po­rate users.

“I didn’t know any­thing about it un­til af­ter it hap­pened,” said Chuck Wul­len­john, YPG spokesman.

Veron­ica Shorr, Yuma’s re­gional di­rec­tor for the Ari­zona Com­mu­nity Foun­da­tion, was ex­cited enough about Zucker­berg’s post Wed­nes­day to post one of the more than 3,500 com­ments it had got­ten by 5:30 p.m. Thurs­day.

“Mark, I hope you fell in love with Yuma! Our com­mu­nity is ground zero for a lot of projects like this — giv­ing us the per­fect op­por­tu­nity to pro­mote STEM in our schools and com­mu­nity!” Shorr wrote, also en­cour­ag­ing the in­creas­ingly phil­an­thropic founder to look into sup­port­ing the Yuma Com­mu­nity Fund’s tech­nol­ogy-re­lated pro­grams.

She told the Yuma Sun she would have loved to see Zucker­berg speak to stu­dents at lo­cal schools. “Un­for­tu­nately he didn’t do that, but I think this is great, just him ac­knowl­edg­ing Yuma in his post is a huge suc­cess, be­cause now he’s putting Yuma on the map, world­wide.”

She noted other com­ments came in from In­dia, Ja­pan, South Africa and other na­tions, and a Face­book user from Kenya replied “Great” to her com­ment.

“So how cool to show this to our stu­dents. I can’t wait to go home and show my son, ‘look at this, this was tested in Yuma, and if this be­comes a re­al­ity there’s go­ing to be in­ter­net ac­cess for 4 bil­lion peo­ple around the world, so what a great thing to say ‘Hey, it hap­pened here’ or ‘It started here,’” she said, quot­ing fig­ures Zucker­berg used in his post.

The Aquila air­craft, when fully de­vel­oped, are in­tended to stay aloft for 90 days at a time and beam a broad­band in­ter­net sig­nal to a 60-mile wide area on the ground, from an al­ti­tude of up to 60,000 feet.

On Tues­day, Zucker­berg an­nounced that Face­book now has more than 2 bil­lion users.

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