Largest Plane in the World Lifts Off for First Time

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Largest Plane in the World Lifts Off for First Time

The largest plane in the world, a massive twin-fuselage, six-engine aircraft built for U.S.-based transport venture Stratolaunch, has taken to the skies for the first time.

Fifty years ago, the Concorde stunned the world. Last month, the largest passenger plane on Earth ceased production. Now begins the chapter of a new era in aviation – the first flight of the largest plane in the world.

In what was a surprise to most in the aviation industry, Seattle-based aerospace company Stratolaunch announced that they had an aircraft with a wingspan larger than a football field. On 13 April 2019, it launched its maiden test flight from the the Mojave Air and Space Port in the middle of the Californian desert.

The aircraft, whose name is Roc, took off at 6:58 am (PDT) and stayed above ground for about two and half hours. Roc escalated to a peak altitude of 5,180 metres (17,000 feet) and a huge speed of 304 km/h (189 mph). On the ground, it fills every corner of its 100,000-square-foot hangar.

This gigantic beast boasts a wingspan of 117 metres. Photo source: Entrepreneur.

Designed to launch Pegasus XL rockets, this enormous aircraft will be able to carry three rockets per flight. They’ll be mounted on wing pylons in between the plane’s twin fuselages. U.S.-based defence company Northrop Grumman will provide these rockets.

Stratolaunch has been conducting taxi tests with this plane in recent months. In January, it completed a 219 kilometre per hour taxi test. This is almost takeoff speed for the plane. The aircraft had been moving step by step through a range of speedy runway tests to ensure the plane performed smoothly.

Why build the largest plane in the world?

Stratolaunch was founded by Paul Allen, a Microsoft co-founder, in 2011. It’s a private company that wants to launch rockets into orbit using a carrier aircraft. Allen was an outer space enthusiast, but unfortunately passed away in October at 65 years of age due to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The company hopes, by 2022, to use the aircraft to launch satellite-bearing rockets into outer space. They hope to carry 250-tonne rocket ships full of satellites into the stratosphere, around 10 kilometres above ground level. As they planned to carry something as large as a rocket, it’s no wonder why they needed to build the largest plane in the world.

Source: Stratolaunch on Facebook.

Originally, Stratolaunch wanted to carry modified SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets beyond the stars. But, in 2016, they changed their partnership from SpaceX to Orbital ATK, run by Northrop Grumman. Stratolaunch decided in August 2018 that they were going to build their own rockets, but then changed course and contracted Northrop Grumman to build them instead.

The pilot of the aircraft’s maiden flight, Evan Thomas, reported the flight to be smooth and flying as predicted. “The airplane felt really nice on the touchdown, gear felt good,” he said. “We had a couple of corrections to line up in the slow-down, and ended up rolling to a stop pretty much where we wanted to, coming off the runway. So it was overall fantastic.”

The future launcher of rockets, flying high … Photo source: PBS.