Stratolaunch, the world’s largest plane, takes flight

Posted by Elise Kirsten on 18 April 2019

Stratolaunch, a plane with the largest wingspan of any ever made, took flight for the first time in California on Saturday, 13 April 2019.

‘Larger than Howard Hughes’s Spruce Goose – which flew only once, in 1947 – Stratolaunch lifted off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in the California desert and stayed aloft for 2.5 hours,’ the Washington Post reported. The plane reached an altitude of 5,000m and a maximum speed of 304 km/h on its virgin flight.

Not only is this behemoth, twin fuselage plane with a 117m wingspan the largest to ever take to the skies, the Stratolaunch (which has a maximum takeoff weight of 589,670 kilograms) was designed to help launch rockets and satellites into space.

Built by Scaled Composites, Stratolaunch is designed to carry up to three rockets strapped to its undercarriage into the sky. The rockets will then drop, ignite and shoot off vertically into space.

According to Science Alert, ‘By launching rockets from the belly of a plane, instead of vertically from a launch site, the company hoped to reduce the cost of space missions. It’s also the model used by Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which has developed a space plane capable of taking people to the edge of space. Virgin Orbit, another Branson-backed venture, is also working to launch rockets from a plane.’

Stratolaunch is the brainchild of Paul Allen, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, who died last October. A tweet on the Stratolaunch twitter account said, ‘Saturday’s flight was a true reflection of Paul Allen’s incredible foresight. He would’ve been thrilled to witness his vision come to fruition .’

 

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