World's largest airplane completes first test flight
The world's largest aircraft, developed by aerospace venture Stratolaunch, completed its first flight test on Saturday.
With a dual fuselage design and wingspan greater than the length of an American football field, the airplane took off from Mojave Air and Space Port in the US state of California at 6:58am Pacific Time, according to a release of Stratolaunch.
Achieving a maximum speed of 189 miles (302.4km) per hour, the plane flew for 2.5 hours over the Mojave Desert at altitudes up to 17,000 feet. As part of the initial flight, the pilots evaluated aircraft performance and handling qualities before landing successfully back at the Mojave Air and Space Port, said the release.
"What a fantastic first flight," said Jean Floyd, CEO of Stratolaunch. "Today's flight furthers our mission to provide a flexible alternative to ground launched systems. We are incredibly proud of the Stratolaunch team, today's flight crew, our partners at Northrup Grumman's Scaled Composites and the Mojave Air and Space Port."
Regarding initial results from Saturday's test flight, Stratolaunch said the plane performed a variety of flight control maneuvers to calibrate speed and test flight control systems, including roll doublets, yawing maneuvers, pushovers and pull-ups, and steady heading side slips.
Moreover, it conducted simulated landing approach exercises at a max altitude of 15,000 feet mean sea level.
The Stratolaunch aircraft is a mobile launch platform that will enable airline-style access to space that is convenient, affordable and routine. The reinforced center wing can support multiple launch vehicles, weighing up to a total of 500,000 pounds, according to the venture.
The aircraft has a world-record wingspan of 385 feet, and is 238 feet long. It is wider than any airplane on the planet, according to a CNN report.
Stratolaunch was founded by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in 2011 to develop the large carrier airplane as a flying launch pad for orbital-class rockets.
"We all know Paul would have been proud to witness today's historic achievement," said Jody Allen, Chair of Vulcan Inc. and Trustee of the Paul G. Allen Trust. "The aircraft is a remarkable engineering achievement and we congratulate everyone involved."
"A historic milestone for the #Stratolaunch team with this record setting aircraft taking flight! This is about going to the edge of space and beyond!" tweeted Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA Science Mission Directorate.
"I only wish the late @PaulGAllen could see this - his memory and impact lives on," he tweeted.
Dozens of photographers, industry bloggers and aerospace enthusiasts gathered this week to glimpse the unique twin-fuselage plane.