'World's Biggest' Plane Flies for the First Time

James Marshall
April 14, 2019

Jean Floyd, Stratolaunch Systems chief executive, said the aircraft made a "spectacular" landing that was on the mark.

Stratolaunch was financed by Paul Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft as a way to get into the market for launching small satellites.

Stratolaunch Systems is owned by Vulcan, which manages the estate of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who died in October after complications of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Floyd said in a teleconference briefing that it was awesome to "watch this majestic bird take flight" and he whispered a "thank-you" to Allen, who died in October 2018.

Mr Floyd said that as the plane took off, "I did whisper a "thank you" to Paul for allowing me to be part of this remarkable achievement".

A giant six-engine aircraft with the world's longest wingspan - surpassing Howard Hughes' infamous Spruce Goose - took off from California on its first flight on Saturday.

The behemoth, twin-fuselage Stratolaunch jet took off from Mojave Air and Space Port and climbed into the desert sky 112 kilometres north of Los Angeles.

Stratolaunch describes its vessel as the "world's largest plane" but there are aircraft which are longer from nose to tail. "It definitely was ready to fly and wanted to fly", he said. "Really, for a first flight, it was spot on". He did not specify what those things were, and briefing participants did not take questions.

The aircraft is created to carry as many as three satellite-laden rockets at a time under the center of its enormous wing, which stretches 385 feet (117 meters) - a longer wingspan than any other aircraft. It must theoretically be used to carry and drop at altitude a small rocket that will then light its engine, and will propel to space to place satellites in orbit.

British billionaire Richard Branson's company Virgin Galactic has also developed aircraft that launch rockets into orbit from great height.

The company, which was founded in 2011 by the late Paul Allen, has a contract with Northrop Grumman is use Stratolaunch to send its Pegasus XL rocket into space.

The aircraft is meant to carry satellites about twice as high as this test brought it - 36,000 feet (10,970 m) - at which point it would become a mobile launch pad of sorts by releasing the satellites and their launchers into orbit. Surviving in an aviation museum, it has an approximately 320ft (97.5m) wingspan but is just under 219ft long.

Powered by six Boeing 747 engines, the plane is meant to climb twice as high, and with a space rocket strapped underneath.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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