Aviation has enjoyed a short yet successful history, with the Wright brothers claiming the first sustained flight little more than a hundred years ago, in 1903. Since then, planes have improved beyond all recognition, transforming our lives in the process. And in the latest world first, the largest plane by wingspan – the Stratolaunch – has now taken to the skies.
With a wingspan wider than the length of a football field, the Stratolaunch features six turbofan engines, a dual fuselage design and was assembled from parts of two Boeing jets.
The Stratolaunch has been built to ferry rockets to an altitude of 35,000ft, at which time they will ignite and blast into orbit.
Its cargo would carry commercial satellites into space.
The record-breaking plane was designed by Stratolaunch Systems, a company created in 2011 by late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.
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By launching rockets and satellites from on high, Stratolaunch Systems hopes to avoid delays that ground launches face, such as inclement weather.
During its debut two hour test flight, Stratolaunch reached an altitude of 17,00ft and hit speeds of 189 mph (304 kph).
Jean Floyd, Stratolaunch CEO, said: “I’m really excited today to share that we have successfully flown the Stratolaunch aircraft for its first test flight this morning.
“It was an emotional moment for me to personally watch this majestic bird take flight and to see Paul Allen’s dream come to life in front of my very eyes.”
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Stratolaunch hopes to start launching rockets from its plane by next year at the earliest.
But while it works toward that ambitious target, Stratolaunch also faces competition from the likes of Elon Musk’s SpaceX and the United Launch Alliance.
Saturday’s test flight was touted as a success by many, including test pilot Evan Thomas.
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Mr Thomas said: ”The flight itself was smooth, which is exactly what you want the first flight to be.
“And for the most part, the airplane flew as predicted, which is again exactly what we want.
“I honestly could not have hoped for more on a first flight, especially of an airplane of this complexity and this uniqueness.”
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