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It's been almost exactly one year since Facebook first announced it was building an airplane to beam internet access to remote locations. In late June, that plane finally took flight, and on Thursday Facebook shared video to prove it.
The company launched Aquila — a 140-foot, solar-powered, unmanned plane — on June 28 from a military testing facility in Yuma, Ariz. CEO Mark Zuckerberg was on hand to see the plane take its inaugural flight, which lasted for 96 minutes.
The video shows Aquila trundling down the runway on a dolly pulled by what looks like a military Humvee. Once it reached the necessary speed for takeoff, the straps holding it to the dolly were cut, and the plane took off.
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Here's the video.
Facebook says these planes will eventually fly for months at a time between 60,000 and 90,000 feet above sea level. At the inaugural launch, Aquila reached a maximum altitude of 2,150 feet.
If you're asking yourself, why is Facebook building a plane?, that's a fair question. The company's core mission — and one you'll hear repeated often if you ever talk with a Facebook executive — is to connect everyone in the world. You can't really do that without internet access, so these planes are intended to provide internet for rural areas where connectivity is weak or totally unavailable.
Facebook says it wants to build a network of planes that will "beam internet signal" between one another and then down to people on the ground within a 60-mile diameter.
The plane will charge during the day and use its solar-powered battery to stay aloft at night. Facebook says the amount of battery needed to stay aloft at 60,000 feet is approximately 5,000 watts, or "about as much as three hair dryers."
This, of course, is all hypothetical at the moment. Aquila's first test flight was less than a month ago, and that was at least six months delayed. Last June, Facebook said it wanted to get the plane into the air by the end of 2015. That obviously didn't happen.
The company says it has been testing a "1/5th scale airplane for several months" somewhere in Oregon. But the idea of a network of full-sized planes staying in the sky for months at a time seems like it's a way off.
Still, the idea that Facebook may one day provide your internet via airplane is kinda surreal. The company has said in the past it has no interest in selling the planes or becoming a network provider — if true, that means the service itself will likely come from whoever Facebook decides to partner with.
Facebook is not alone in this ambition. Google is trying to do something similar, but with giant balloons.
—By Kurt Wagner, Recode.net.
CNBC's parent NBCUniversal is an investor in Recode's parent Vox, and the companies have a content-sharing arrangement.