Dear Mr. Allen, please let your big bird take flight soon. Signed, everyone
The oh-so-massive Stratolaunch aircraft seems to be getting a little bit closer to taking flight. Last year, Stratolaunch Systems Corp. began ground-based tests of the 72.5-meter-long airplane, which culminated in December with runway tests that saw the vehicle roll at speeds of up to 28mph in Mojave, California.
Now, the Stratolaunch plane has pushed those ground-based cruising speeds even faster. According to the company’s founder, Paul Allen, the Stratolaunch aircraft reached a top taxi speed of 46mph this weekend, “with all flight surfaces in place.” These tests are part of a regimen to certify the aircraft’s ability to steer and stop. The company also released new photos of the plane taken during these tests that further demonstrate its incredible scale.
Beyond these runway tests, unfortunately, Stratolaunch Systems has not disclosed any information about when the first flight of the large aircraft will take place or what checks must be made between now and then. Needless to say, we await the maiden flight in a high state of eagerness.
When it flies, by some measures, the Stratolaunch aircraft will be the largest aircraft ever to take to the skies. The current record holder for wingspan is the Hughes H-4 Spruce Goose, which had a wingspan of 97.5 meters. The Stratolaunch vehicle has an astonishing wingspan of 117 meters. It also has a maximum takeoff weight of 590 metric tons. A Boeing 747 aircraft, by comparison, has a maximum takeoff weight of about 300 tons.
The Stratolaunch system is part of Allen’s plan to lower the cost of access to space with a reusable first stage of launch. Stratolaunch Systems has released few details about the system’s lift capacity. But in October 2016, the company announced a partnership with Orbital ATK. The Dulles, Virginia-based company will provide “multiple” Pegasus XL air-launched rockets, with the Stratolaunch aircraft serving as the first stage.
These rockets can launch small satellites weighing up to 1,000 pounds into low-Earth orbit. With this concept and capacity, Stratolaunch is competing with companies such as Virgin Orbit, which plans to launch rockets from a modified Boeing 747-400. But it can’t compete until the Stratolaunch flies. Which, if we haven’t mentioned this already, we hope is soon.
Listing image by Stratolaunch Systems Corp.