An odd-looking, double-bodied airplane with a wingspan as long as a football field just took to the skies today (April 13) from the Mojave Air & Space Port in California. This was the first flight for Stratolaunch, which is billed as the world’s largest aircraft.
Designed by Stratolaunch Systems Corp. to carry satellites into low-Earth orbit, the craft spent 2.5 hours in the air above the Mojave Desert at altitudes up to 17,000 feet (5,180 meters). The plane reached speeds of 189 mph (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 company said.
The aircraft is meant to carry satellites about twice as high as this test brought it — 36,000 feet (10,970 m) — at which point it would become a mobile launch pad of sorts by releasing the satellites and their launchers into orbit. Stratolaunch would then return to the runway. According to Allen, who died Oct. 15, 2018, this system would make satellite launches much easier and faster. That’s because there’d be no need for ground launches of rockets. Rather, Stratolaunch could take off from various runways and then fly to a spot with good weather.
Stratolaunch has a wingspan of 118 m and is 8 m long.