We now know why Facebook’s enormous internet-beaming drone mysteriously crashed

Facebook Aquila drone

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Facebook’s Aquila drone descending from its first test flight earlier this year.

Facebook’s internet-beaming Aquila drone crashed during its first test flight due to unexpected turbulence that damaged its right wing, according to a report from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) on Friday.

The social-networking company had previously mentioned “a structural failure we experienced just before landing” in a July blog post about the test flight but hadn’t disclosed details of the mishap until now.

“During the final approach, the aircraft encountered an increasing amount of turbulence and wind speeds,” according to the NTSB, which barred Facebook from disclosing details of the accident until its investigation was finished. The report notes that “while on final approach at 20 feet above the ground, the right outboard wing experienced a structural failure with a downward deflection.”

Facebook’s Aquila drone is bigger than a Boeing 737 and designed to stay aloft for months at a time at altitudes of 60,000 feet, powered by solar energy and beaming down wireless internet around the world. The project is part of Internet.org, a division of Facebook that’s working to bring the internet to countries with limited or no access.

In response to the accident during Aquila’s first test flight, Facebook said in a Friday blog post that its future drones “will incorporate a drag device such as a spoiler or airbrake that the autopilot can use to steepen the descent without increasing airspeed.”

The company will also “command the autopilot to give priority to keeping the airspeed under the limit, sacrificing altitude tracking if required.”

“We are already designing and building second-generation aircraft with new features added as a result of our learnings, and are eager to fly again,” Facebook said.

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