Stratolaunch, World's Largest Airplane Makes First Test Flight in California


Stratolaunch, the company that was founded by late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, has finally hit an important milestone in its short company history.

On Friday, it successfully completed its first test flight, flying for two-and-a-half hours above the California's Mojave Desert without an issue. "Today's flight furthers our mission to provide a flexible alternative to ground launched systems", the company said.

After years of development in the desert north of Los Angeles, a enormous, six-engined mega jet with the wingspan of an American football field flew Saturday morning for the first time.

The behemoth, twin-fuselage Stratolaunch jet took off from Mojave Air and Space Port and climbed into the desert sky 112 kilometres north of Los Angeles.

Stratolaunch describes its vessel as the "world's largest plane" but there are aircraft which are longer from nose to tail.

The plane is created to drop rockets and other space vehicles weighing up to 500,000 pounds at an altitude of 35,000 feet. Stratolaunch Systems plans to use the aircraft to launch air-to-space rockets with a weight of up to 500,000 lb (226,796 kg). The aircraft performed as expected, reaching a maximum speed of 175 miles per hour and a peak altitude of 15,000 feet.

The airplane's six Pratt & Whitney engines and 28-wheel landing gear were originally designed for Boeing 747s, but aerospace company Scaled Composites worked alongside Stratolaunch and repurposed three 747s to put it together.

Importantly, Saturday's flight was just a test - no rockets were launched from the giant plane as it soared at 17,000 feet. "I honestly could not have hoped for more on a first flight, especially of an airplane of this complexity and this uniqueness".

Stratolaunch Chief Test Pilot Evan Thomas, who flew the aircraft on its historic first flight. The company took no questions from reporters during the call, which lasted 10 minutes.

There have been concerns about how Stratolaunch's business will work once it takes on customers, with some questioning whether a trend toward smaller satellites would dampen demand for such a large plane.

The team checked the plane's handling, and tested rolls and yaws.

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