Aircraft

Stratolaunch, the world's largest plane, emerges from its hangar for the first time

Stratolaunch, the world's larg...
The world's largest plane is out of its hangar for the first time
The world's largest plane is out of its hangar for the first time
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An illustration of the path the aircraft would take to carry its payloads into the stratosphere
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An illustration of the path the aircraft would take to carry its payloads into the stratosphere
The world's largest plane is out of its hangar for the first time
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The world's largest plane is out of its hangar for the first time
The place is powered by six Boeing 747 engines
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The place is powered by six Boeing 747 engines
This massive hangar was custom-built to construct the giant plane
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This massive hangar was custom-built to construct the giant plane
The first sight of the Stratolaunch
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The first sight of the Stratolaunch
An artist's impression of the plane in the air
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An artist's impression of the plane in the air
The first sight of the Stratolaunch
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The first sight of the Stratolaunch
First flight is planned for 2019
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First flight is planned for 2019
Rear view of the epic plane
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Rear view of the epic plane
The aircraft leaving the hangar
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The aircraft leaving the hangar
The massive plane weighs 500,000 lb
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The massive plane weighs 500,000 lb
Four years of construction led to this moment
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Four years of construction led to this moment

After four years of construction, the world's largest plane has just rolled out of its giant hangar for the first time. The Stratolaunch aircraft, which boasts a wingspan greater than a football field, is designed to carry rockets into the stratosphere, where they are released before firing their engines and continuing on into space.

The giant twin-fuselage aircraft, which weighs in at 500,000 lb (226,000 kg), is designed to carry payloads up to 550,000 lb (249,476 kg). With a wingspan of 385 ft (117 m), it outreaches the 320-ft (97.5-m) wingspan of the Spruce Goose. The craft is powered by six Boeing 747 engines and was constructed in an enormous, custom-designed, 103,257 sq-ft (9,593 sq m) hangar in the Mojave desert.

Towed from the hangar on its 28-wheel landing gear, this is the first time the aircraft has been publicly displayed, with the team now preparing for fueling tests, engine runs and ultimately a first flight planned for 2019.

This massive hangar was custom-built to construct the giant plane
This massive hangar was custom-built to construct the giant plane

Stratolaunch Systems was launched seven years ago by Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen, and is one of several companies racing to develop an air-launch-to-orbit aircraft. Currently, to get an object into orbit it needs to take off from a launchpad, which is costly and time-consuming.

Earlier this year, Virgin Galactic spun off a dedicated company called Virgin Orbit that is aiming to achieve a similar goal. Its plan is to use a 747-400 to carry rockets up to an altitude of 35,000 ft (10,670 m) before releasing them.

First flight is planned for 2019
First flight is planned for 2019

Stratolaunch, on the other hand, has been working on designing this unique aircraft to do the same job. It already has its first customer lined up, partnering with Orbital ATK in late 2016 in a plan to use the massive aircraft to launch Orbital's Pegasus rockets into orbit.

The company is aiming for a first launch demonstration some time in 2019.

Source: Stratolaunch

23 comments
BeinThayer
What's up with the flat noses?
Bob
These aircraft should be able to reach 50,000 feet to launch their payload.
guilhen
I don't have no problem with twin fuselage, already been done... But just one connection between them? If the tails had been twinned, i'd understand...Looks strange and fragile, do you think it flies?
yawood
@BeinThayer. The flat noses will likely be fitted with radar antenna and a pointy radome. Many planes would look like that if you removed the radome and radar antenna.
Ralf Biernacki
@BeinThayer: They made a mistake sizing the hangar, and had to cut off the noses to make the plane fit. ;-)
JimFox
Bob-- Near the equator, the stratosphere starts at 18 km (59,000 ft; 11 mi); at mid latitudes, it starts at 10–13 km (33,000–43,000 ft; 6.2–8.1 mi) and ends at 50 km (160,000 ft; 31 mi) So, yeh- 50,000 ft sounds practical.
JimFox
guilhen it does look weird- also piloting from both fuselages? I imagine the stresses in that single cross-member will be enormous, specially torsion from turning & turbulence. We shall see. Presumably the experienced engineers have good reason to design the thing this way. The only thing I can think is that a tail-end strut might be hit on release of the rocket?
Bob Stuart
I always wondered why we built such dreadfully inefficient first stage rockets. They are just stronger than available aircraft, and thus cheaper for a few shots. However, a cable system would let several 747s work together on a single load.
VincentBrennan
As for twin fuselage Burt Rutan designed several aircraft like this. Being that this aircraft was built at Mojave near Scaled Composites (Rutan's company) I would not be a bit surprised if either he or they had some kind of relationship with this company. Rutan has always been one of my l life heroes. About 18 years ago I helped Toyota deliver an experimental electric car to him at Scaled Composites. I had a wonderful conversation with him and a guided tour of Scaled Composites. What an amazing place run by an aerodynamic genius. Another benefit of being at Mojave is that the airport is used to store hundreds of airliners either leaving service or waiting to go online. There is a huge "bone yard" and a great place to scrounge up 6 serviceable 747 engines and all the instrumentation, radars and such. It is also recognized as a "Spaceport". The entire project makes sense to me.
Paulinator
I suspect that the separated tail planes were done to prevent bad things from happening. Joining the tail would certainly make the craft stiffer, but it would also increase the potential for catastrophic stress-risers forming. With a flexible design the controls can be employed to dampen any adverse harmonics. There may even be active (or passive) mass-dampening in a machine that large.