Delivery applications for drones have ranged from military intelligence and ordinance to farming pesticides and infrastructure images. AeroVironment’s new Hawk 30 will look to add to that list of deliverables in the form of 5G internet access.
The solar-powered drone builds on a legacy of projects the firm has completed with NASA over the past 20 years. It features 10 electric engines that can push the Hawk 30 to altitudes as high as 12.5 miles. AeroVironment has a long-standing history of building high-altitude, long-endurance aircraft for NASA. Since 1997, the space agency’s Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology program has funded three solar- and fuel-cell powered drones from AeroVironment.
That partnership helped to create the Helios Prototype, a lightweight drone that reached an altitude of 18.5 miles in 2001. Unfortunately, two years later it came apart during a flight and crashed into the Pacific Ocean. A similar drone was attempted in 2010, only to fall from the skies a year later.
In recent years, communication giants like Google and Facebook have also attempted to develop similar aircraft for expanding internet access, but both have scraped the approach due to the complexities of meshing aerospace engineering with wireless communication to various points on the ground. The goals of all of these drones matched those of the Hawk 30, but advances in wireless communication and lightweight autonomous aircraft seem to keep all involved optimistic.
The next steps for the Hawk 30 will be test flights emanating from California’s Armstrong Flight Research Center later this month.
Image Credit: IEN