Stratolaunch, the aerospace venture founded by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, sent the world’s biggest airplane into the air today for its first flight test.
The twin-fuselage plane, which incorporates parts from two Boeing 747 jumbo jets and has a world-record wingspan of 385 feet, took off from Mojave Air and Space Port in California for a flight that lasted two and a half hours.
For more than seven years, Stratolaunch has been working with Mojave-based Scaled Composites on the project, which aims to use the plane as a flying launch pad for orbital-class rockets. The first flight test had been anticipated for months.
“We finally did it,” Stratolaunch CEO Jean Floyd said today during a briefing.
Stratolaunch’s plane, which has been nicknamed Roc after a giant mythical bird, took off at 6:58 a.m. PT and went through a series of in-flight maneuvers, including roll doublets, yawing maneuvers, pushovers and pull-ups, steady heading side slips and simulated landing approach exercises. Stratolaunch said it reached a maximum speed of 189 mph and maximum altitude of 17,000 feet.
The plane “flew much as we expected,” Scaled Composites test pilot Evan Thomas said. “We saw a few little things that were off-nominal, but really, for a first flight, it was spot-on,” he said.
Observers said the plane appeared to swerve a bit on the runway during its landing, and Thomas confirmed that there were “a couple of corrections to line up in the slowdown.” But all things considered, Floyd said it was a “fantastic first flight.”
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