Stratolaunch, World's Largest Airplane Makes First Test Flight in California

Virgin Orbit plans to use a customized Boeing 747-400 to compete with Stratolaunch

The company, which aims to take on the likes of SpaceX, Blue Origin among others, has finally successfully completed the first flight of "Roc" - world's largest and the most weight carrying plane till date.

The Stratolaunch, the world's largest aircraft that just so happens to be created to "enable airline-style access to space", successfully took flight for the first time in the Mojave Desert on April 13.

Reaching a maximum speed of 189 miles (302.4 km) per hour, the aircraft flew for 2.5 hours over the Mojave Desert at altitudes up to 17,000 feet.

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

In simple terms, the Stratolaunch aircraft is a giant flying launch pad, created to hurtle satellites into low Earth orbit. Although the jumbo jet won't carry as much as the Stratolaunch, it's still able to serve a significant slice of the market for small satellite launches and it expects to be in business by the middle of this year. To save money on designing new engines and landing gear, the jet is powered by six Pratt & Whitney engines, which were originally designed for Boeing 747s.

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After Allen's death in October 2018, Stratolaunch dropped plans to develop its own type of rocket engine and a family of launch vehicles, focusing instead on getting the giant plane airborne and launching Northrop Grumman's proven Pegasus XL.

Mr Thomas said there were "a few little things that were off-nominal but really for a first flight it was spot on".

As taking off from the ground is the most fuel-consuming portion of a rocket launch, the idea of a stratosphere launch is meant to allow for the increase of a rocket's payload, also allowing for a faster turnaround between launches, say specialists at both Stratolaunch and Virgin Orbit, according to a CNBC report. That's because there'd be no need for ground launches of rockets. His specialties in test flight include aviation and test safety, aircraft stability and control testing and operational leadership of flight test teams.

Its twin fuselages are 238 feet long, and the aircraft is so big, it has two cockpits - one in each fuselage - although only one is used to fly the plane.

Saturday's first-ever test flight of Stratolaunch was flown by experimental test pilot Evan Thomas.

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