World's largest airplane by wingspan makes first flight

Blanche Robertson
April 14, 2019

The company, which was founded in 2011 by the late Paul Allen, has a contract with Northrop Grumman is use Stratolaunch to send its Pegasus XL rocket into space. According to Allen, who died October 15, 2018, this system would make satellite launches much easier and faster.

The world's largest aircraft took off over the Mojave Desert in California on Saturday, the first flight for the carbon-composite plane built by Stratolaunch Systems Corp, started by late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, as the company enters the lucrative private space market.

An aircraft with the longest wingspan in the world has safely completed its first flight.

As taking off from the ground is the most fuel-consuming portion of a rocket launch, the idea of a stratosphere launch is meant to allow for the increase of a rocket's payload, also allowing for a faster turnaround between launches, say specialists at both Stratolaunch and Virgin Orbit, according to a CNBC report.

Its 385 ft (117 m) wingspan is the length of an American football field.

During the flight, the Stratolaunch aircraft reached a maximum speed of 189 miles per hour (304 kilometers) and altitude of 17,000 feet (5,182 meters). It must theoretically be used to carry and drop at altitude a small rocket that will then light its engine, and will propel to space to place satellites in orbit.

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"Today's flight furthers our mission to provide a flexible alternative to ground launched systems", Floyd said.

"We all know Paul would have been proud to witness today's historic achievement", Jody Allen, the trustee of the Paul G. Allen Trust, is quoted as saying in a press release announcing the launch.

Stratolaunch was piloted by Scaled Test Pilot Evan Thomas, a former F-16 pilot with 28 years of experience with the US Air Force.

Jean Floyd, Stratolaunch Systems chief executive, said the aircraft made a "spectacular" landing that was on the mark.

They include the six-engine Antonov AN 225 cargo plane, which is 84 metres long, and the Boeing 747-8, which is just over 76 metres long. Until now, it had just carried out tests on the ground.

The previous wingspan leader was Hughes' second world war-era eight-engine H4 Hercules flying boat, which was nicknamed the Spruce Goose.

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