The world’s largest aircraft, when measured in wingspan, has just completed its second flight. Nicknamed ‘the Roc’ and developed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the conjoined fuselage aircraft is powered by six Boeing 747 engines. On Thursday, the Stratolaunch rocket-launcher turned hypersonic-test-flight carrier took to the skies for the first time in two years.
Airborne after a two-year break
After a two-year hiatus, the world’s largest aircraft by wingspan is back in the air. The twin-hulled plane, which is 385 feet (117 meters) over the wings – wider than the length of an American football field – performed a test flight earlier today at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.
Shortly after 07:30 AM local time, the company tweeted that the gigantic plane had successfully taken off for its second-ever flight. About three hours later, having performed various test flight maneuvers, it was back on the ground. A Cessna Citation business jet accompanied the aircraft as a chase plane.
We are airborne! pic.twitter.com/6jTkkqfjKd
— Stratolaunch (@Stratolaunch) April 29, 2021
The original intention for the unique aircraft, which took its first flight in April 2019, was to host rockets carrying satellites before launching them further into space. Due to its dual-hull, it would allow those who did not want the plane’s full capacity to share the payload with another customer. Ride-sharing for rockets, if you will. Overall, the idea was to provide a fast, cost-effective air-launch system for small satellites.
Shift of direction
For a long time, the future of the mothership of a rocket launcher was uncertain. Its maker, Stratolaunch, was started by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and Scaled Composites founder Burt Rutan in 2011. Mr Allen, unfortunately, passed away in October 2018, and so he never got to see the company’s largest aircraft take flight.
Short video I took this morning, from my office, as we towed the aircraft back into the hanger. Gives a nice perspective on the size of the Roc pic.twitter.com/JEO3ao5lf9
— Jean Floyd (@WJeanFloyd) April 23, 2021
Following Allen’s death, Stratolaunch went on the market. The new owners, Cerberus Capital Management, decided to shift course for its newfound record-wingspan asset.
The company now means for the ‘Roc’ to function as a launch vehicle for reusable hypersonic flight research vehicles. Hypersonic is a term used to describe speeds of at least Mach 5, five times the speed of sound.
As opposed to a fixed launch set-up Stratolaunch says it is ready to bring the aircraft to its customers, significantly cutting booking windows and launch preparation time.
The plane, resembling an aircraft version of a catamaran, is powered by six Pratt & Whitney PW4056 engines taken from two Boeing 747s. Moreover, many other features, such as avionics, flight deck, landing gear, and other systems, have also been adopted from the Queen.
Its official name is Scaled Composites Model 351 Stratolaunch. It surpasses the previous wingspan record-holder, the Hughes H-4 Hercules, also known as the ‘Spruce Goose’ by 65 feet (20 m).
The fuselages are 238 ft (73 m) long and are supported by 12 main landing gears each for a total of 24. The pilot, co-pilot, and flight engineer are located in the right fuselage’s cockpit. The left side is uncrewed and provides storage space for mission-specific equipment.
What do you make of the future for the Stratolaunch aircraft? Leave a comment below and tell us what you think of this unique plane.