Giant Stratolaunch plane takes off from California
LOS ANGELES – A giant six-engine aircraft with the longest flight in the world made its first flight after about two hours on Saturday.
The double-fused Stratolaunch jet took off from Mojave Air and Space Port and climbed into the desert sky 70 miles north of Los Angeles.
Founded by the late billionaire Paul G. Allen, Stratolaunch aims to be a competitor in the small-launch satellite market.
The aircraft is designed to carry up to three satellite-laden rockets both under the center of its huge wing, which extends for 385 feet – a wingspan longer than any other aircraft.
At an altitude of 35,000 feet, the rockets would be released, ignite their engines and launch into space.
The benefits of such airlift systems include the ability to use many airports and avoid the limitations of fixed launch sites that may be affected by weather, air traffic and shipping traffic on ocean channels.
Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, founded Stratolaunch Systems Corp. in 2011 after having emerged in the aerospace sector by financing the development of SpaceShipOne, launched on a trial and experimental basis, which became in 2004 the first privately built inhabited rocket.
After Allen's death in October 2018, Stratolaunch abandoned his project of developing his own type of rocket engine and a family of launchers. He focused instead on the take-off of the giant aircraft and the launch of Northrop Grumman's Pegasus XL.
The Stratolaunch aircraft departed its Mojave hangar for the first time in May 2017 and conducted ground tests, including taxiing and take-off from a runway at a speed close to take-off.
Propelled by the same type of engines as the Boeing 747s, this aircraft is designed to take off at a maximum mass of 1.3 million pounds. Its twin fuselages – a sort of aircraft equivalent of a catamaran – are 238 feet long.
The previous major leader was the Hercules H-4 Hercules Seaplane, an eight-engine World War II aircraft, nicknamed "Spruce Goose". Surviving in an aviation museum, it has a wingspan of about 320 feet but a length of just under 219 feet.
While Stratolaunch considers its aircraft as the largest in the world, the other aircraft exceed it from start to finish. This is the Antonov AN 225 cargo aircraft with six engines, 275.5 feet long, and the Boeing 747-8, a little over 250 feet.