The conclusion of an NTSB investigation into Facebook’s drone crash landing earlier this year has enabled the social network to share more details. According to Facebook, the Aquila drone experienced failure and crashed shortly before landing due to high wind speeds that kicked off a series of unfortunate scenarios. The test was still considered a success by Facebook despite the troubles.
Facebook’s Aquila is a solar-powered and relatively lightweight drone created as part of the company’s mission to provide Internet access to remote parts of the world. The company completed its first successful Aquila flight this past summer, but there was a ‘small’ issue — the drone experienced a structural failure right before landing, and that failure caused the drone to crash land.
Facebook reported the incident to the National Transportation Safety Board, but couldn’t disclose any more details to the public due to regulations. Now that the NTSB has finished its review, Facebook has revealed the details it has been sitting on.
According to the company, the drone was operated in winds that ended up being higher than the Facebook team had anticipated. These higher winds were present during the last seconds of the drone flight, causing the drone to loft ‘above the glidepath.’
The autopilot kicked in to correct for this, but the correction coupled with the wind speeds caused higher than expected ‘bending and torsion’ which, seconds before touching down, caused the drone to experience a structural failure. As you’d expect when the structure of an aircraft becomes damaged, the touchdown was rough. At the time of the failure, Facebook says Aquila was going under 30MPH and was within 20ft of the ground.
While the crash landing was unfortunate, it’s not a big deal, as the entire point of a test flight is to work out issues like this. Facebook says it received important data from this incident, and will use that to help refine its product.