The FAA has approved the first unmanned aircraft operation of its kind to help restore cellular service in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
The Flying COW (Cell on Wings) drone, developed by AT&T, functions like a cell tower in the sky, restoring voice, data and internet service. It flies up to 200 feet above the ground, covering an area of 40 square miles, and is particularly useful in remote areas, FAA officials noted.
The Pulse Vapor 55 drone, which resembles a miniature helicopter, is fitted with LTE radios and antennas and is tethered to ground-based electronics and power systems.
Because the aircraft exceeded the 55-pound weight limit required to operate under the FAA’s small drone rule, the FAA had to issue a special exemption and an emergency certificate of authorization for AT&T to conduct its mission.
The company is using the drone as a temporary cell service solution while it rebuilds the permanent infrastructure on the island.