World's largest plane flies with a hypersonic vehicle for the first time
For the first time on Friday, October 28, Stratolaunch's Roc, the world's largest plane, flew a prototype of the Talon-A separation test vehicle, TA-0, its air-launched hypersonic vehicle.
The flight, which was Roc's eighth, lasted for five hours and six minutes over the Mojave Desert, reaching an altitude of 23,000 feet (7,000 meters).
According to a press release, the flight centered on measuring the aerodynamic loads on the Talon-A vehicle. "The loads captured in flight will validate aerodynamic predictions to ensure the release mechanism will function as designed," it said.
The test was a clear indicator of Roc's potential; it can serve as a launching pad for hypersonic vehicles. One part of the test was a 28-foot-long (8.5 meters) Talon prototype vehicle attached to a pylon at the center of the plane's 385-foot-wide (117 meters) wings.
Talon-A vehicles are reusable hypersonic test aircraft that carry customizable payloads at speeds of up to Mach 5. Stratolaunch has started manufacturing the first fully reusable hypersonic test vehicles, TA-2 and TA-3.
Fulfilling the agreement with Pentagon for hypersonic test flight launches
"We have conducted a variety of ground tests in anticipation of this first captive carry flight, and with each successful test, milestone achieved we have built confidence that the hardware will perform exactly as it was designed. It's exhilarating to see the team's hard work come to life and see the vehicles fly as an integrated system," Dr. Zachary Krevor, Stratolaunch chief executive officer and president, said in a statement.
"I was ecstatic seeing those two vehicles combined as they lifted off the runway and into the sky," Krevor told reporters in a Friday teleconference. "Seeing our flight products operating together represents a significant step towards regular and reusable hypersonic flight."
The test's success fulfills Stratolaunch's agreement with the Pentagon for hypersonic test flight launches. Last year, the Pentagon struck a deal with Stratolaunch to test new hypersonic flight services. The aircraft, designed to launch payloads into space, shifted focus to hypersonic aircraft systems.
In the coming months, the company will conduct a series of captive carry flights, resulting in a separation test of the TA-0 vehicle out over the Pacific Ocean in late 2022. If it goes well, Stratolaunch will test its first hypersonic vehicle, the Talon-A TA-1, in 2023.
"Testing and production are accelerating as we push forward to meet our commitment of providing hypersonic flight test service to our customers next year. Our team will continue accomplishing more complex test milestones as we progress to our first hypersonic flight," Krevor said.