Stratolaunch makes its first flight

WASHINGTON – The giant plane built by Stratolaunch to serve as an air launch platform made its first flight on April 13, as questions arose as to the future of the company.

The aircraft, the world's largest aircraft, took off from the Mojave air and space port in California at 9:58. The aircraft flew for two and a half hours before landing at Mojave, reaching a maximum speed of 278 kilometers at an hour and an altitude of 4,570 meters.

Evan Thomas, the test pilot with Scaled Composites piloting the plane, said the flight had gone very well. "Honestly, I could not have hoped for more during a first flight, especially an airplane of this complexity and singularity," he said at a press conference. a brief call to the media after the flight.

The test flight took place after a series of taxi tests of the aircraft at increasing speeds, culminating on January 10 when the nose gear of the aircraft briefly left the ground. Thomas testified that this flight began as previous tests until they strangled and performed a rotating maneuver to take off. "He was really ready to fly and wanted to fly," he said.

Aside from what Thomas described as "a few out of name things," the aircraft performed well during the flight, in the image of his simulator. "Really, for a first flight, it was perfect."

"Overall, we are very pleased with the performance of the Stratolaunch," said Zachary Krevor, vice president of engineering at Stratolaunch. "The plane flew as planned, it's exactly what we wanted."

However, neither Krevor nor Jean Floyd, General Manager of Stratolaunch, said anything about the test flight program, including the date the plane will fly again and the length of the program. global test. The company did not ask journalists any questions during the 10-minute call.

The flight comes after six turbulent months for the company. Its founder and major funder, billionaire Paul Allen, died last October. In January, Stratolaunch announced that it was abandoning the development of its own launchers that would have been launched from the aircraft. A spokesman for the company said at the time that Stratolaunch was "streamlining its operations" to focus on developing the aircraft.

The only vehicle Stratolaunch plans to launch from this plane is Northrop Grumman's Pegasus XL, a small launcher that has struggled in the commercial market in recent years, despite the growing interest in small satellites. The only recent Pegasus customer is NASA, and problems with the rocket have delayed for several months its latest mission for the agency, the ICON space science satellite.

Stratolaunch has argued in the past that the ability to carry up to three Pegasus rockets on a single flight would make the system attractive to national security customers, offering the ability to deploy a complete constellation on a single flight. Military agencies, however, have supported other small launchers, including another Virgin Orbit launcherOne airlift system, designated as a DARPA Launch Challenge qualifier on April 10 alongside Vector and a developer of launchers. stealth.

Stratolaunch dedicated this test flight to Allen. "I had imagined this moment for years, but I had never imagined the experience without Paul next to me," Floyd said. "Even though he was not here today, as the plane was freeing off the runway, I whispered a thank you to Paul for allowing me to take part in this remarkable achievement."

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