Stratolaunch, the world’s largest airplane, successfully flew for the first time this morning in a two and a half hour test flight over the Mojave desert.
Stratolaunch Takes to the Skies
The world’s largest airplane, Stratolaunch, successfully took to the skies for the first time this morning in a two and a half hour long test flight over the Mojave desert, marking a major aviation milestone.
Stratolaunch took off just before 7 AM PDT from the Mojave Air Space Port (MASP), achieved a maximum speed of 189 mph at an altitude of 17,000 feet. The test flight was meant to test the aircraft’s performance and handling, eventually touching back down at MASP.
“What a fantastic first flight,” said Stratolaunch CEO Jean Floyd. “Today’s flight furthers our mission to provide a flexible alternative to ground-launched systems. We are incredibly proud of the Stratolaunch team, today’s flight crew, our partners at Northrup Grumman’s Scaled Composites and the Mojave Air and Space Port.”
According to Stratolaunch Systems, the results of today’s test flight include “a variety of flight control maneuvers to calibrate speed and test flight control systems, including roll doublets, yawing maneuvers, pushovers and pull-ups, and steady heading side slips” as well as “simulated landing approach exercises at a max altitude of 15,000 feet mean sea level.”
What is Stratolaunch?
Stratolaunch, according to the company, is designed to be a “mobile launch platform that will enable airline-style access to space that is convenient, affordable and routine. The reinforced center wing can support multiple launch vehicles, weighing up to a total of 500,000 pounds”
In other words, this isn’t your typical airplane. The goal for Stratolaunch is to provide an alternative launch platform for satellites other than rockets like SpaceX’s Falcon 9 or SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket—which had its first successful test flight this week as well.
The Stratolaunch itself has the largest wingspan of any aircraft on Earth at 385 feet, wider than a football field including the endzones; it even has two dozen feet to spare. The plane has two fuselages each with its own cockpit—though only one is needed to fly—6 Pratt & Whitney engines, usually found on Boeing 747s, and 28 wheels for its landing gear. Rockets with orbital payloads will be mounted to the center wing of the aircraft, which will then be flown to an altitude of around 35,000 feet. At that altitude, the rocket will be released and it will fire, continuing on its way into orbit under its own power.
“It's so huge, it seems like it shouldn't be able to fly," aerospace and launch photographer for NASASpaceFlight.com Jack Beyer told CNN.
“People are interested in the first flight of Stratolaunch because they want to see the future," he added. "It's the same reason why people tune in each year to watch the Apple keynotes. People want to see what's next.”
Stratolaunch was founded in 2011 by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who passed away earlier this year.