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Saturday, April 13, 2019
World’s Largest Aircraft Takes Flight for the First Time
Stratolaunch, the giant six-engine aircraft with a wingspan greater than a football field, completed its first flight Saturday, April 13, 2019. (Photo Credit: Stratolaunch)
A massive, six-engined mega jet with a wingspan greater than the length of an American football field and known as the world’s largest all-composite aircraft completed its first flight Saturday.
The behemoth Stratolaunch jet lifted off from Mojave Air and Space Port in California at 6:58 a.m. PDT. Achieving a maximum speed of 189 miles per hour, the plane flew for 2.5 hours over the Mojave Desert at altitudes up to 17,000 feet.
For its first test flight, Stratolaunch flew for 2.5 hours over the Mojave Desert in Calif. (Photo Credit: Stratolaunch)
As part of the initial flight, the pilots evaluated aircraft performance and handling qualities before landing successfully back at the Mojave Air and Space Port.
“We finally did it,” said Stratolaunch Systems CEO Jean Floyd at a news conference from the hangar at Mojave Air & Space Port. “It was an emotional moment to watch this bird take flight.”
Stratolaunch Systems was founded in 2011 by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and is vying to be a contender in the market for air-launching small satellites into space.
“The Stratolaunch aircraft is a mobile launch platform that will enable airline-style access to space that is convenient, affordable, and routine,” according to a press release.
The reinforced center wing of the aircraft can support multiple launch vehicles, weighing up to a total of 500,000 pounds.
The test flight on Saturday enabled the Stratolaunch test team to conduct standard aircraft testing exercises. The aircraft performed 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. It also conducted simulated landing approach exercises at a max altitude of 15,000 feet mean sea level.
“We all know Paul would have been proud to witness today’s historic achievement,” said Jody Allen, Chair of Vulcan Inc. and Trustee of the Paul G. Allen Trust. “The aircraft is a remarkable engineering achievement and we congratulate everyone involved.”
The aircraft is so big, it has two cockpits — one in each of its two fuselages — although only one is used to fly the plane. (Photo Credit: Stratolaunch)
According to test pilot Evan Thomas, a former F-16 Air Force fighter pilot, the plane flew as predicted for the most part.
“It was overall fantastic,” Thomas said. “I honestly could not have hoped for more on a first flight, especially of an airplane of this complexity and this uniqueness.”
The aircraft’s wingspan measures 385 feet — wider than any airplane on the planet. It’s powered by the same type of engines used by Boeing 747s, and is designed to take off at a maximum weight of 1.3 million pounds (589,676 kilograms).
Its twin fuselages are 238 feet long, and the aircraft is so big, it has two cockpits — one in each fuselage — although only one is used to fly the plane.
“Today’s flight furthers our mission to provide a flexible alternative to ground launched systems,” said Stratolaunch CEO Jean Floyd. (Photo Credit: Stratolaunch)
The satellites that the Stratolaunch might launch in low Earth orbit in the future can provide communications and broadband internet connectivity to remote areas on the ground, according to CNN.
The market for commercial satellite launch services is growing rapidly and is expected to reach $7 billion by 2024, according to Global Market Insights.
Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit is also close to launching its own LauncherOne rocket into space for its maiden flight next year. LauncherOne is designed to carry and launch small satellites of up to 1,100 pounds into orbit. But unlike most rockets which launch from a stationary pad, LauncherOne will be released from beneath an airplane.