The largest airplane in the world took its first flight on Saturday. The plane which has been built by the rocket company Stratolaunch weighs nearly 500,000 pounds, and has a wingspan of 385 foot too. The plane lifted for the first time at 10 AM ET from the Mojave Desert in California. This was considered one of the most critical test flights for the aircraft. The plane is designed primarily to launch rockets into orbit. The first flight lasted for about 150 minutes after which the aircraft landed safely.
According to Stratolaunch, the dual-fuselage plane is made to fly at an altitude of 35,000 feet. From that altitude, it can actually be able to launch rockets that go into orbit. However, this particular flight didn’t feature any rockets. The priority at the moment is to make sure the plane can actually fly to the desired altitude and return to land safely. It seems like this first test was a success. Stratolaunch CEO Jean Floyd noted that the flight was an emotional moment for the company. This is something they had been working on for some time and seeing the “bird take to the skies” was extremely satisfying.
In addition to this, Floyd added that the test went as planned. The huge plane was able to hit a speed of 175 miles per hour at a peak altitude of 15,000 feet. The launch, however, comes on the backdrop of very troubling times for Stratolaunch. Just three months ago, the company laid off nearly 50 employees and canceled its efforts to build its own rockets. The changes were reportedly sparked by the death of Paul Allen who started the company back in 2011. Stratolaunch paid a lot of tribute to Allen after the successful launch of this flight saying that he would have been proud of the steps that the company has made since he passed on.
Despite this, Stratolaunch didn’t reveal what will come next. In fact, in a press conference held shortly after the successful test flight, the company refused to take questions from journalists. It’s very likely that more information will be revealed in the coming few days. However, so far the company has been developing the plane quietly and it won’t be a surprise if it continues in the same way. A lot of people will be curious to know when the plane is set for deployment and whether there will be other design changes to look forward to.
Nonetheless, the test flight on Saturday was a culmination of incremental tests that were done over the last few years. In 2017, for instance, Stratolaunch announced that it had conducted a series of successful engine tests for the plane. There were also a few landing tests along the Mojave at various speeds. It’s not clear how close the company is to fully developing the plane. But it’s safe to say that it has already made giant steps towards its ultimate goal.