Stratolaunch, the world's widest aircraft, takes off on first flight

Stratolaunch, the world's widest aircraft, takes off on first flight

Stratolaunch CEO Jean Floyd said the aircraft made a spectacular landing.

Stratolaunch was piloted by Scaled Test Pilot Evan Thomas, a former F-16 pilot with 28 years of experience with the US Air Force. Thomas said this flight started out like those previous tests until they throttled up and did a rotation maneuver to take off.

The enormous, six-engine aircraft known as Stratolaunch has a 385-foot wingspan, weighs about 500,000 pounds and is the dream of late Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen. The aircraft performed as expected, reaching a maximum speed of 175 miles per hour and a peak altitude of 15,000 feet. The plane is the brainchild of Paul G. Allen's Stratolaunch Systems Corporation, and sports an impressive 385-foot wingspan. "I honestly could not have hoped for more on a first flight, especially of an airplane of this complexity and this uniqueness". "Today's flight furthers our mission to provide a flexible alternative to ground launched systems", the company said.

The widest plane ever built prior to the Stratolaunch was the mid-20th-century H-4 Hercules - aka "Spruce Goose" - built by famous U.S. aviator Howard Hughes. Rockets with orbital payloads will be mounted to the center wing of the aircraft, which will then be flown to an altitude of around 35,000 feet.

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Putting small satellites into space via airplanes also promises to be cheaper than traditional rocket launches because it eliminates the need for launch pads and all the pricey equipment and infrastructure surrounding a traditional rocket launch. The American business magnate, who co-founded Microsoft along with Bill Gates in 1975, died of cancer in October previous year at the age of 65.

"Without a doubt, he would have been exceptionally proud to see his aircraft take flight", Floyd said. While in-flight, several tests were conducted to evaluate the aircraft flight control systems and test the handling.

Stratolaunch originally touted this jet as the world's biggest aircraft, but toned down that statement this weekend referring to it as the "world's largest all-composite aircraft". It features six Pratt & Whitney PW4056 turbofan engines, a similar type to those being used on the Airbus A300, Boeing 747-400 and Boeing 767.

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