Autopilot Malfunction Caused Facebook’s Aquila Drone to Fall Out the Sky

Aquila drone

The investigation launched by the NTSB concluded that the Aquila drone was not designed to operate in high wind conditions.

Earlier this year, in June, Facebook described the first test flight of it Aquila drone as a complete success. However, after the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board announced it was going to conduct a thorough investigation in relation to the drone crashing down rather than landing smoothly as Facebook intended, it was revealed to the world that the flight was not a success after all.

In November, the early reports suggested the apparatus had suffered a structural failure moments before landing. The National Transportation Safety Board classified the incident as an accident, as the damage was substantial. However, nobody on the ground was harmed, and no damage to the ground has been registered.

Report Findings

According to the new discoveries, it seems that the Aquila drone encountered violent turbulences of up to 18 knots. While this may not seem like much for an aircraft that has the wingspan roughly equivalent to that of a Boeing’s 737, Facebook’s drone was not equipped to deal with winds this strong.

The NTSB has concluded that approximately 20 feet above the ground, the Aquila drone was thrown off its gliding path by a powerful wind gust. In order to get back on the gliding path, the autopilot lowered the aircraft’s nose and pushed the elevens in an upward position. It was only a matter of time before the lowered nose and the low angle of attack sent the Aquila drone flying towards the ground.

The NTSB has tracked the problem to the aircraft’s right wing, saying that the strong winds which exceeded the Aquila’s structural limit caused a failure and ultimately sent the drone spiraling down.

This explains why the initial reports talked about a structural fail. The NTSB report concludes that the accident was a direct cause of “exceeding the airspeed envelope due to wind gusts beyond the capabilities of the autopilot”. In short, the Aquila drone’s autopilot was not built to cope with winds that strong as encountered during the test flight.

Facebook Plans to Update the Aquila Drone

In light of these events, the social media company only said that the engineers are working around the clock on an updated version of the drone. By the time the second Aquila will take to the air, the team is confident that the issue will be dealt with accordingly and the autopilot will be able to land the aircraft smoothly.

Image Source: Youtube

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