World's largest plane makes first test flight

Cheryl Sanders
April 14, 2019

A giant six-engine aircraft with the world's longest wingspan - surpassing Howard Hughes' infamous Spruce Goose - took off from California on its first flight on Saturday.

"It was an emotional moment for me, personally, to watch this majestic bird take flight", Stratolaunch CEO Jean Floyd said in a phone call with reporters.

The massive, twin-fuselage Stratolaunch jet created to air-launch rockets into orbit lifted off from Mojave Air and Space Port early Saturday. Pacific time (3pm United Kingdom time) and stayed in the air for more than two hours before landing safely back at the Mojave Air and Space Port, where a crowd of hundreds of people cheered.

The plane reached speeds of 189 miles per hour (304 km/h) and performed several flight control maneuvers, including "roll doublets, yawing maneuvers, pushovers and pull-ups, and steady heading side slips", the manufacturer Stratolaunch said in a statement. "Today's flight furthers our mission to provide a flexible alternative to ground launched systems". The aircraft performed a variety of flight control maneuvers to calibrate speed and test flight control systems, including roll doublets, yawing maneuvers, pushovers and pull-ups, and steady heading side slips.

"It also conducted simulated landing approach exercises at a max altitude of 15,000 feet mean sea level", says the official.

"Paul G. Allen founded Stratolaunch to get game-changing ideas off the ground by making space launch more reliable, affordable and accessible than ever before", according to the company's website.

It is a goal for the company to soon see the large aircraft carry 250-tonne rocket ships loaded with satellites to a height of 35,000 feet, with further hopes to carry the aircraft and its satellite cargo into space.

Allen founded Stratolaunch Systems in 2011, after funding the development of the experimental air-launched SpaceShipOne, which in 2004 became the first privately built manned rocket to reach space.

The reinforced center wing of the aircraft can support multiple launch vehicles, weighing up to a total of 500,000 pounds.

Speaking to the media soon after the touchdown, Evan said, the successful flight was the result of the blood, sweat and tears of all the men and women of Stratolaunch who worked tirelessly. And for the most part, the airplane flew as predicted which is again exactly what we want. The plane has two fuselages each with its own cockpit-though only one is needed to fly-6 Pratt & Whitney engines, usually found on Boeing 747s, and 28 wheels for its landing gear. Stratolaunch would then return to the runway.

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