Facebook completes first test flight of internet airplane in UK

26 Mar 2015

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has just revealed that the first test flight of unmanned aircraft that can beam internet from the sky has been completed in the UK.

As the second day of the F8 developer conference begins Zuckerberg revealed that the final design will have a wingspan greater than a Boeing 737 but will weigh less than a car.

The aircraft will be powered by solar panels on its wings and will be able to maintain altitudes of more than 60,000 feet for months at a time.

“Aircraft like these will help connect the whole world because they can affordably serve the 10pc of the world’s population that live in remote communities without existing internet infrastructure,” Zuckerberg said.

The aircraft are part of Zuckerberg’s Internet.org effort to ensure broadband connectivity as a means of improving educational and economic opportunities in the developing world.

At the recent Mobile World Congress Zuckerberg acknowledged that high flying airplanes and balloons weren’t the only solution for connecting emerging economies.

He said that balloons and drones were experiments and not the real solution for bringing broadband to deprived areas of the world: the real solution is working with operators.

“There’s a lot of press who want to write about experiments with different ways of connecting – balloons, planes and satellite – but that’s actually at the fringe of what’s going on.”

He said that ways need to be found to reduce the infrastructure costs of deploying mobile but also the commercial models. “It’s about money if we want to grow the industry faster and make progress even faster.”

Last week Google demonstrated that its broadband transmitting balloons – aka Project Loon – could travel 9,000km between Australia and Chile, proving that a balloon could travel from one side of the world before moving on to serve broadband in another part of the world in just days.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years