Its wingspan is longer than a football field. The tail is 50 feet from the ground. It was manufactured by reassembling the parts of two used Boeing transport aircraft.
On Saturday, the biggest airplane in the world took flight for the first time.
The double-fuselage aircraft, called Stratolaunch, flew over the Mojave Desert in southern California for about two and a half hours, reaching a speed of 189 miles at an hour and an altitude of 17 000 feet, announced the Stratolaunch team.
"The flight itself was fluid, and that's exactly what you want for the first flight," said Evan Thomas, a test pilot at Scaled Composites who piloted the Stratolaunch, during the first flight. a point of press. "And for the most part, the plane flew as planned, which is still exactly what we want."
The ship, the largest aircraft of its scale, is designed to carry rockets to propel commercial satellites into space. The company bet that it would be more effective than launching them from the ground, which is approaching several other space-conscious companies.
Paul G. Allen, founder of Microsoft, funded the project and announced plans for Stratolaunch in 2011. Allen died in October, raising questions about the future of this initiative. The company refused to say how much the project cost.
In August, Stratolaunch announced the development of a "family of launchers" that can be deployed from the aircraft to carry satellites. But in January, the company reduced its efforts.
There was concern about how Stratolaunch's business would work once it was between customers, with some wondering whether a trend toward smaller satellites would dampen the demand for such a large aircraft.
Even so, Saturday 's flight was touted as a milestone and an engineering marvel.
"You've all been very patient and very tolerant over the years, we were waiting for this big bird to take off, and we finally did," said Jean Floyd, General Manager of Stratolaunch, at the meeting.
The team checked the aircraft's behavior on Saturday and tested the rolls and the yaws.
Mr. Thomas said that there were "a few things that were not nominal" but the company did not specify what it was.
"The plane felt really good to the touch, the equipment felt good," said Thomas. "We had some corrections to line up in the slowdown and we ended up practically stopping where we wanted to leave the track.
"It was so fantastic overall."
Stratolaunch said that by launching rockets in the air, it could "bypass the weather, air traffic and other factors causing delays in traditional ground launching."
The leaders also said that the aircraft can easily move to areas more suitable for launching satellites on certain orbits, although it needs a landing strip that can withstand its big size.