The world's largest aircraft by wingspan and largest all-composite aircraft took to the air for the first time on Saturday as the Stratolaunch completed its maiden flight. At 6:58 am PDT, the twin-hulled space-launcher platform took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California for a two and a half hour flight over the Mojave Desert.
The flight, which marked the next step in making a new orbital launch system operational, toppled an aerospace record that has stood since 1947. In that year, the Hughes Aircraft Company's "Spruce Goose" H-4 Hercules flying boat took to the air on its brief, one and only flight. It was not only the heaviest aircraft of its time, but also boasted the longest wingspan at 320 ft 11 in (97.54 m) – a record that stood until Stratolaunch took off this past weekend.
Though Stratolaunch isn't the world's heaviest aircraft, weighing in at only 500,000 lb (226,000 kg), it does have what is now the longest wingspan of any aircraft that has taken to the skies, stretching the tape measure to 385 ft (117 m). Its purpose is to carry payloads of up to 550,000 lb (250,000 kg) in the form of externally carried rockets and satellites on its reinforced central wing, from where they will launch into low-Earth orbit.
During the test flight, the Stratolaunch reached an altitude of 17,000 ft (5,200 m) and a maximum speed of 189 mph (304 km/h) while carrying out a series of maneuvers to evaluate aircraft performance. These included speed and flight control tests, like roll doublets, yawing maneuvers, pushovers and pull-ups, and steady heading side slips. In addition, the aircraft ran a series of simulated landing approaches at 15,000 ft (4,500 m)
"What a fantastic first flight," says Jean Floyd, CEO of Stratolaunch. "Today's flight furthers our mission to provide a flexible alternative to ground launched systems. We are incredibly proud of the Stratolaunch team, today's flight crew, our partners at Northrop Grumman's Scaled Composites and the Mojave Air and Space Port."
You can see highlights of the test flight in the video below.
Want a cleaner, faster loading and ad free reading experience?
Try New Atlas Plus. Learn more