The largest aircraft on the planet is closer to its first flight. The aircraft is called Stratolaunch, and it has 28 wheels with a 117-meter wingspan, enough to cover the full length of a football field, goalpost to goalpost.
This massive plane weighs 250 tonnes and it has just completed its first round of engine testing, staring its six Pratt & Whitney turbofan 747 engines for the first time.
Built by Scaled Composites for Paul Allen’s aerospace company Stratolaunch Systems, the Stratolaunch mega plane was first introduced in May of this year.
The purpose of this enormous twin-fuselage airplane is to carry rockets to a certain altitude before dropping them so that these rockets can then ignite and take satellites further on to orbit in space. It’s yet another innovative new way to access low earth orbit without using heaps of fuel.
Stratolaunch’s engine testing went through a three-step process. First, there was a “dry motor” test, which involves hooking up the turbofans to auxiliary power and firing them up.
The second phase is a “wet motor” test; this is when fuel is introduced to the engine system. The final and third step involved Stratolaunch Systems starting the engines individually and letting them idle, luckily it all went smoothly say the Stratolaunch team.
The team also completed fuel testing, by testing all six fuel tanks by filling each independently to ensure the fuel mechanisms were up to snuff and to validate that the tanks were properly sealed. In addition to this they also trialed the flight control system, plus the electrical, pneumatic, and fire detection systems all passed the various examinations.
“So far we have exercised the full limits of motion and rate of deflection of control surfaces on the wing and stabilizers,” states Mr. Jean Floyd, CEO of Stratolaunch Systems in a press release on the website.
The aim for the next few months is to run the engines to increased power levels and varying configurations until engine testing is complete, once finished this will then lead to the first taxi tests.
“This is a first-of-its-kind aircraft, so we’re going to be diligent throughout testing and continue to prioritize the safety of our pilots, crew, and staff. Stratolaunch is on track to perform its first launch demonstration as early as 2019,” says Floyd.
When it does eventually take to the skies, this giant airplane might have competition in the form of rocket launchers like Tesla, Virgin Galactic’s modified 747 and the United Launch Alliance.
The company was founded in 2011 by Paul G. Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, with the aim of making access to space more convenient through the development of an air-launch platform. In October 2016, it was announced that many Orbital ATK Pegasus XL rockets would be eventually launched by the Stratolaunch aircraft.