A giant aircraft as wide as a football pitch successfully completed its second test flight, reaching speeds of up to 199mph.
Stratolaunch is the world’s largest aircraft by wingspan, stretching to 383 feet – almost twice as wide as a Boeing 747 and larger than the average NFL pitch.
The plane is being developed by aerospace company Stratolaunch Systems, which was founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in 2011, and recently took to the skies for the first time in more than two years following a change in ownership.
Taking off from Mojave Air and Space Port in Southern California on Thursday, April 29, Stratolaunch reached an altitude of 14,000 feet and a top speed of 199mph. Lasting three hours and 14 minutes, the flight marks a significant moment for the plane, which was widely reported to have been shelved following its maiden test flight in April 2019.
Those reports proved wide of the mark, however, and following a week’s delay due to bad weather, Stratolaunch announced the aircraft’s return to the skies on Thursday morning, tweeting ‘we are airborne’ alongside a video of the plane’s successful take-off.
With a twin-fuselage, six engines, 28 wheels and more than 100 miles of wiring, the Stratolaunch weighs a massive 500,000 pounds (250 tons) even without cargo, and at four stories tall is about the height of a humpback whale, according to PaulAllen.com.
The Stratolaunch requires a three-person crew, all seated in the right-hand cockpit, with the other fuselage left unpressurised. It’s got a maximum load capacity of 1.3 million pounds (650 tons), or alternatively the equivalent of ’93 fully grown African elephants’. Storing the beast is no easy task either, with the specially constructed 103,256 square feet airplane hangar that houses the Stratolaunch boasting, among other things, the ‘world’s largest garage door.’
Allen, who died six months before Stratolaunch’s maiden 2019 test flight, initially intended for the plane to be used for mid-air satellite launches, however, the company is now advertising its carrier for use as a launch vehicle for hypersonic flight research, MailOnline reports.
Flying for around 45 minutes longer than it’s first test flight two years ago, the Stratolaunch performed various test manoeuvres, with the company’s Twitter sharing footage of the plane climbing at altitude, making a low-approach over the runway, and eventually safely touching back down to Earth. The company confirmed that the test flight had been ‘successful,’ adding ‘what a beautiful sight.’
It’s not clear when Stratolaunch will be ready for commercial use, but the company is continuing development with the goal of ‘making access to space and the hypersonic flight environment convenient, affordable, and routine.’
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