'World's biggest plane' Stratolaunch completes first flight

Tuesday, 16 Apr, 2019

After years of development in the desert north of Los Angeles, a huge, six-engined mega jet with the wingspan of an American football field flew Saturday morning for the first time.

There have been concerns about how Stratolaunch's business will work once it takes on customers, with some questioning whether a trend toward smaller satellites would dampen demand for such a large plane. Allen died in October, prompting questions about the initiative's future.

"It was an emotional moment for me, to personally watch this majestic bird take flight, to see Paul Allen's dream come to life in front of my very eyes", Mr Floyd told a teleconference briefing.

That's not all that makes this plane remarkable.

The first flight of Stratolaunch, a project of Scaled Composites, founded by the legendary Burt Rutan, lasted 2 hours and 30 minutes and reached 17,000 feet (5,180 meters).

"For the most part, the plane flew as predicted", said Thomas, a former F-16 Air Force fighter pilot. We got running down the runway, did our rotation and the airplane very nicely and smoothly rotated. "It definitely was ready to fly and wanted to fly and climbed out quickly".

Weather conditions for Stratolaunch's first flight were ideal, with early morning temperatures in the 40's to 50's, light winds, minimum visibility of 10 miles reported by aviation weather surfaces and temperatures rising to 62 degrees Fahrenheit by 1030 local time. He did not specify what those things were, and briefing participants did not take questions.

It has 385 feet (117 meters) wingspan, far more than the largest aircraft ever to fly, such as the Airbus A380, the Antonov An-225 or even the H-4 Hercules, also called "SpruceGoose", created by Howard Hughes.

The plane, the largest by wingspan, is created to carry rockets to blast commercial satellites into space. The aircraft is created to fly satellite-carrying rockets to an altitude of about 35,000 feet (10,700 m), then release boosters so that they can launch their payloads up to orbit.

This handout photograph obtained courtesy of Stratolaunch shows the Stratolaunch plane flying over the California desert, April 13, 2019, the first test flight of the United States company's enormous aircraft whose wingspan is nearly half that of an Airbus A380. It is powered by six engines on a twin fuselage.