World’s largest airplane, takes flight

GNS/ Washington: The world’s largest airplane with two fuselages and six Boeing 747 engines took flight for the first time ever on Saturday morning (13 April) in California. Built by rocket launch company Stratolaunch, The mega jet carried out its maiden voyage over the Mojave Desert.

The jet lifted off from Mojave Air and Space Port shortly before 7 a.m. local time on Saturday and climbed into the desert sky 70 miles (112 kilometers) north of Los Angeles, it reported.

It is designed to carry into space, and drop, a rocket that would, in turn, ignite to deploy satellites. The inaugural flight lasted for 150 minutes, according to the company, after which the plane safely landed.

The dual-fuselage Stratolaunch is designed to fly to an altitude of 35,000 feet, where it can drop rockets that ignite their engines and boost themselves into orbit around the planet. There is no rocket on this particular flight. But the company has already signed at least one customer, Northrop Grumman, which plans to use Stratolaunch to send its Pegasus XL rocket into space.

“It was an emotional moment for me, personally, to watch this majestic bird take flight,” said Stratolaunch CEO Jean Floyd in a press meet. The company reported the airplane hit speeds of 189mph and heights of 17,000-feet during its 150-minute test flight, before landing safely at the Mojave Air and Space Port.

It is supposed to provide a more flexible way to deploy satellites than vertical takeoff rockets because this way all you need is a long runway for takeoff.

It was built by an engineering company called Scaled Composites.

The aircraft is so big its wingspan is longer than a football field, or about 1.5 times that of an Airbus A380. Specifically, the wingspan is 117 meters; that of an Airbus A380 is just under 80.

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

But Allen died in October of last year, so the future of the company is uncertain.

The previous wingspan leader was Howard Hughes’ World War II-era eight-engine H-4 Hercules flying boat – nicknamed the Spruce Goose. Surviving in an aviation museum, it has an approximately 320-foot (97.5-meter) wingspan but is just under 219 feet (67 meters) long.

While Stratolaunch calls its aircraft the world’s largest, other airplanes exceed it in length from nose to tail. They include the six-engine Antonov AN 225 cargo plane, which is 275.5 feet (84 meters) long, and the Boeing 747-8, which is just over 250 feet (76.3 meters) long.

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