Aircraft

World’s largest plane completes maiden flight

The Stratolaunch has the world's longest wingspan
The Stratolaunch has the world's longest wingspan
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A crowd watching Stratolaunch's first flight
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A crowd watching Stratolaunch's first flight
The Stratolaunch can carry a payload of 500,000 lb
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The Stratolaunch can carry a payload of 500,000 lb
The Stratolaunch has twin hulls
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The Stratolaunch has twin hulls
Stratolaunch touching down
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Stratolaunch touching down
Stratolaunch over the Mojave Desert
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Stratolaunch over the Mojave Desert
The Stratolaunch has the world's longest wingspan
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The Stratolaunch has the world's longest wingspan

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.

The Stratolaunch has twin hulls
The Stratolaunch has twin hulls

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.

Source: Stratolaunch

Stratolaunch First Flight

3 comments
Nobody
I have read that they plan to launch rockets from 35,000 feet. This seems rather low since a fully loaded 747 can cruise at 50,000 feet and carry enough fuel to cross the Pacific. I would think that this plane with six 747 engines and increased wing area could fly even higher. Perhaps the rockets to be launched will be much heavier ? ? ?
Fast Eddie
I made the trip to Mojave to see this beast fly. It was quite impressive and flew with great confidence. A great achievement...and a thrill to witness. Well done, Stratolaunch! However, I have to wonder where the Stratolaunch concept will find firm footing. SpaceX's reusability success has shaken the financial ground under all companies in the space launch business. And if SpaceX truly creates a reusable second stage for its boosters, the business model for all other launch companies completely collapses for all but national capability arguments.
McDesign
I'm guessing the large majority of the fuselage(s) is not pressurized, given the flat sides? Cool beast!