“We all know Paul would have been proud to witness today’s historic achievement. The aircraft is a remarkable engineering achievement and we congratulate everyone involved.”
In partnership with manufacturer Scaled Composites, a division of Northrop Grumman, Stratolaunch Systems on April 13 completed the first flight of the world’s largest all-composite aircraft, named after the company founded in 2011 by the late Paul Allen.
With a dual fuselage design and a wingspan greater than the length of an American football field, including both end-zones, the Stratolaunch aircraft took flight early in the morning from the Mojave Air & Space Port for standard testing exercises.
The aircraft has a wingspan of 385 feet (117 metres), length of 238 feet (73 metres), and a tail height of 50 feet (15 metres). It is powered by six Pratt & Whitney PW4056 engines and is rated for a maximum takeoff weight of 650 tonnes.
To serve as a comparison of giant aircraft, although designed for very different purposes, the Antonov An-225 Mriya for strategic airlift is rated for a maximum takeoff weight of 640 tonnes (640,000 kg). Also powered by six turbofan engines, the An-225 Mriya has a wingspan of 290 feet (88.4 metres), length of 275 feet (84 metres) and a tail height of 59.5 feet (18.1 metres).
As part of the initial flight, Stratolaunch Systems explains the pilots performed a range of maneuvers to calibrate speed and test flight control systems, including roll doublets, yawing maneuvers, pushovers and pull-ups, and steady heading side slips. The pilots also conducted simulated landing approach exercises at a max altitude of 15,000 feet (mean sea level).
The plane achieved a maximum speed of 189 miles per hour and flew for 2 1/2 hours over the Mojave Desert at altitudes of up to 17,000 feet.
The Stratolaunch is described as a mobile launch platform to enable airline-style access to space, primarily for commercial satellites to forgo traditional hurdles of rocket launches – with long wait times, weather delays, and high-price tags.
“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.”
The Stratolaunch’s reinforced centre wing can support multiple launch vehicles, weighing a total of 500,000 pounds. “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.”