Breaking News Emails
Receive last minute alerts and special reports. News and stories that matter, delivered the mornings of the week.
/ Source: CNBC.com
By Michael Sheetz, CNBC
The aviation has a new number one in size, as a unique aircraft made its first test flight Saturday morning over the Mojave Desert in California, told CNBC people familiar with this flight.
This test makes the huge Stratolaunch the largest aircraft in the world to fly, with a wingspan of over 385 feet – wider than a football field. With two fuselages and six Boeing 747s. Stratolaunch is built to launch air rockets.
Stratolaunch is an "air launch" system, which means that the plane will carry rockets up to about 35,000 feet, and then drop the rocket. One of the advantages of such a system, introduced by Stratolaunch as well as by Virgin Orbit of Richard Branson, is that entering and exiting a traditional track offers greater flexibility and, ultimately, allow for rapid rotation between launches.
The company has had various partnerships, as well as internal plans, for the rockets that Stratolaunch will carry. SpaceX was one of the company's first partners, but Stratolaunch then contracted with Orbital ATK, owned by Northrop Grumman, to fly the Pegeasus XL rocket. Stratolaunch's plan to develop its own rocket fleet was dropped in January.
Stratolaunch Systems is owned by Vulcan, which manages the estate of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The billionaire entrepreneur founded Stratolaunch in 2011, in partnership with the manufacturer of specialized aircraft Scaled Composites. Allen died in October from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
The death of Allen is one of the main reasons for the evolution of Stratolaunch's plans earlier this year. When the company announced in January that it was terminating the development of its own engines and rocket vehicles, Stratolaunch would have laid off more than 50 of its 80 employees.