Over two years after Stratolaunch flew the world's largest aircraft — with its six Boeing 747 engines and 117 meters (385 feet) wingspan — for the first time, it has successfully taken to the air for its second flight at the Mojave Air And Space Port in California, according to a report by The Drive.
As we reported in June 2019, Stratolaunch's future was cast in doubt after only one flight, following the death of its founder, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.
The enormous aircraft, dubbed 'Roc,' was originally designed and built for Stratolaunch by a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman, called Scaled Composites. Following the passing of Paul Allen, the project was compared to Howard Hughes' H-4 'Spruce Goose,' an ill-fated flying boat project that never hit the skies.
However, in 2019 new ownership steered Stratolaunch away from its original vision as a space payload launcher and in a different direction: namely, towards the increasing demand for hypersonic flight testing platforms.
Though it's still in its testing phase, the Roc dwarfs the world's largest fully operational cargo plane, the Antonov An-225, with its wingspan of 290 feet (88 meters).
The second flight's a charm
The Roc took off from the Mojave airstrip early on Thursday, April 30. The company teased the second flight almost two weeks ago on social media by posting pictures and a video of the plane undergoing ground taxi tests in preparation for its second flight.
We are airborne! pic.twitter.com/6jTkkqfjKd— Stratolaunch (@Stratolaunch) April 29, 2021
After the successful completion of the Roc's second test flight, Stratolaunch posted on social media that "all results are as expected." However, the company has not released any specifics regarding the test goals or parameters.
Currently performing various flight test maneuvers. pic.twitter.com/u9uMWzfrEK— Stratolaunch (@Stratolaunch) April 29, 2021
Still, the mere fact that the Roc has flown again means we may be closer to seeing the world's largest aircraft undertaking fully operational missions.
Touchdown!! Successful flight tests to round out the day. What a beautiful sight. pic.twitter.com/gdssjvoN8x— Stratolaunch (@Stratolaunch) April 29, 2021
As already mentioned, the aircraft was originally designed to launch payloads into space, and has since shifted its focus to hypersonic jet testing. This looks like a smart move amidst the fierce competition in space payload delivery spearheaded by companies including SpaceX — which has more than a hundred launches under its belt — and Rocket Lab, which also aims to fly with reusable rocket boosters.
With the global hypersonic missiles market expected to grow by $101 million between 2020 and 2024, and the US Department of Defense recently announcing hypersonics as one of its top priorities for modernization, the Roc's second flight has the air of an enormous phoenix rising from the ashes.