Stratolaunch, the world’s biggest airplane, takes flight

File image- Stratolaunch

Stratolaunch Systems successfully launched the first test flight of the Stratolaunch, a six-engine plane with a wingspan 385 feet wide – longer than a football field and any planes’ wingspan.

The aircraft, from the company Stratolaunch, has been eight years in the making.

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The dual-fuselage Stratolaunch is designed to fly to an altitude of 35,000 feet, where it can drop rockets that ignite their engines and boost themselves into orbit around the planet.

There is no rocket on this particular flight. But the company has already signed at least one customer, Northrop Grumman, which plans to use Stratolaunch to send its Pegasus XL rocket into space.

“It was an emotional moment for me, personally, to watch this majestic bird take flight,” said Stratolaunch CEO Jean Floyd. The aircraft performed as expected, reaching a maximum speed of 175 miles per hour and a peak altitude of 15,000 feet.

The advantages of such air-launch systems include being able to use numerous airports and avoid the limitations of fixed launch sites, which can be impacted by weather, air traffic and ship traffic on ocean ranges.

The previous wingspan leader was Howard Hughes’s Second World War-era eight-engine H-4 Hercules flying boat – nicknamed the Spruce Goose. Surviving in an aviation museum, it has an approximately 97.5-metre wingspan but is just under 67 metres long.

While Stratolaunch calls its aircraft the world’s largest, other airplanes exceed it in length from nose to tail. They include the six-engine Antonov AN 225 cargo plane, which is 84 metres long, and the Boeing 747-8, which is just over 76.3 metres long.

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