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Facebook drone accident spurs US safety investigation

The National Transportation Safety Board is looking into a structural failure of Facebook's Aquila internet drone during a test flight last June.

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Facebook's quest to bring broadband internet to all corners of the globe had a bumpy landing in June when its Aquila drone ended its first test flight in Arizona, Bloomberg reported Monday,

After a 96-minute flight, the solar-powered aircraft with a wingspan of a Boeing 737 experienced a "structural failure" just before landing, an incident that's now under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.

In statement, NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson said that although there were no injuries or ground damage, the aircraft itself was "substantially damaged." The NTSB's full report is due in the next two months.

Despite the accident, a Facebook spokesperson called the flight successful. "We have already learned a lot from the results of this flight test and will continue to learn from all the future flight tests we plan to run," the spokesperson said.

Designed to stay aloft for 90 days at a time. the Aquila drone is part of a large-scale effort by Facebook to boost broadband coverage to remote areas without traditional infrastructure. But the company's efforts in that regard have been met by setbacks. In September, a satellite designed to bring internet access to parts of Africa courtesy of Facebook was destroyed when the SpaceX Falcon 9 that was supposed to carry it into space exploded at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

First published November 22 at 4:17 a.m. PT.
Updated at 7:35 a.m. PT: Added comment from the NTSB.
Updated at 8:45 a.m. PT: Added comment from Facebook.

Facebook drone accident under investigation (CNET Update report)