Facebook's Aquila has a 40m wingspan

Facebook builds Internet-beaming drone as wide as a 737

Facebook says it has finished building a drone with the wingspan of a Boeing 737 designed to bring Internet access to the world's most remote areas.

The aircraft is the company's first full-scale model to come out of its Aquila program, which aims to create a solar-powered unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that can hover at an altitude of between 60,000ft and 90,000ft (20km and 30km), above the altitude of commercial airplanes, where it will beam down Internet access.

The 400kg drone will require helium balloons to be attached to float it up to its resting altitude, said Yael Maguire, the company's engineering director of connectivity, but reaching that height means it won’t be affected by problematic weather and it will be able to stay airborne for 90 days at a time.

"Our mission is to connect everybody in the world," said Jay Parikh, vice-president of engineering. "This is going to be a great opportunity for us to motivate the industry to move faster on this technology."

The 42m-wide UAV requires constant movement to stay aloft, so it will circle in a three-kilometre radius, Parikh added. During the day, it will float up to 90,000ft and at night will drift down to 60,000ft to conserve energy.

The drone, which was built in 14 months, is the first in a proposed fleet that the social network hopes will bring connectivity to the 10 per cent of the world's population that does not have any Internet access.

The company said it will test it in the United States later this year, but with current US Federal Aviation Authority rules currently in transition it may face challenges.

Facebook is the first company to fly at such altitudes, but Maguire said it has a team working with policymakers to help set guidelines and does not immediately face policy or legal hurdles in testing the drone in the US.

Parikh said Facebook is not planning to sell the drones but will use them to expand Internet access, a long-term goal of the firm, which last year launched Internet.org - an initiative to provide Internet access to the two-thirds of the world that do not have a reliable connection.

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