The gigantic, six-engined Stratolaunch plane flew its maiden test flight, signaling a landmark event in aviation history.
The world's largest aircraft by wingspan
successfully lifted off on April 13, 6:58 a.m. from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, achieving a maximum speed of 189 miles per hour.
The airplane flew for two and half hours
at an altitude of 17,000 feet into the desert sky 70 miles north of California before landing safely back at the Mojave Air and Space Port.
The aircraft was manufactured by Stratolaunch, the company founded in 2011 by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen. Stratolaunch aims for a unique air-launch approach
to deliver payloads to multiple orbits and inclinations in a single flight.
It is designed to blast satellites into low Earth orbit and offer for more economical ways to get into space.
Bird With The Largest Wingspan
The Stratolaunch aircraft nicknamed "Roc" has a dual fuselage design with two cockpits, one in each fuselage. From tip to tail, it measures 238-feet long with a wingspan to 385-feet that is larger than the length of an American football field. It is made largely of carbon fiber material instead of aluminum and has a landing gear comprising 28 wheels.
It has a gross takeoff weight of 1.3 million pounds and powered
by six Pratt & Whitney Turbofan engines which are originally designed for Boeing 747s. These engines can give out a whopping 340,500 pounds of thrust.
"Today's flight furthers our mission to provide a flexible alternative to ground-launched systems," said Jean Floyd, CEO of Stratolaunch.
As part of the initial flight, the pilots evaluated
aircraft performance and handling qualities.
The flight test team conducted standard aircraft testing exercises that included a variety of flight control maneuvers to calibrate speed and test flight control systems and conducted simulated landing approach exercises at a max altitude of 15,000 feet mean sea level.
"The systems on the airplane ran like a watch," said Evan Thomas, a former F-16 Air Force fighter pilot who flew the Roc.
Future Of Flying
It took Stratolaunch eight years to send its bird into the air. When it started
, Stratolaunch originally intended to carry modified SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets into space, but the two companies had a falling out.
In 2016, the company partnered with Northrop Grumman-owned Orbital ATK, which builds the Pegasus XL rocket. When Allen passed away last year, Stratolaunch dropped plans to develop its own rocket engine and launch vehicles. By 2022, the company hopes to use the Roc aircraft to launch satellite-bearing rockets into space.
Stratolaunch is facing competition from Richard Branson's Virgin Orbit company. Branson's LauncherOne service intends to hurtle rockets carrying satellites into orbit using a customized Boeing 747-400.