Stratolaunch - Paul G. Allen

Stratolaunch – first flight of the largest plane in the world

Jennifer Weitbrecht
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The development took many years. On Saturday the 13th of April the time had finally come: “Stratolaunch”, the largest airplane in the world took off for the first time. The not further officially announced spectacle took place in the Mojave Desert in California.

The maiden flight of “Stratolaunch”

According to Stratolaunch Systems Corporation, the impressive aircraft reached a height of more than 5,000 meters on its first flight at a top speed of around 300 km/h. In total, the flight lasted about 2.5 hours. 

On YouTube you can see some videos of spotters who were deeply impressed. Here you can find the official video of Stratolaunch:

Why all this?

The idea behind the development of Stratolaunch is to use the mega-plane as a flying launch pad for satellites. The rockets with satellites attached to them are to be suspended between the two fuselages and thus carried upwards. This would make the deployment of satellites less dependent on the weather, as the position of the satellite launch could be chosen flexibly.

With this type of launch, the costs for space travel could possibly be significantly reduced. However, it is still unclear whether and, above all, when the mega-plane can be used for commercial purposes. If everything goes according to plan, it will regularly carry freight into orbit. 

Two fuselages – six engines – the facts 

The Stratolaunch is equipped with an innovative double fuselage and designed as a high-wing. The wingspan of the aircraft is simply impressive: with 117 metres, it is 37 metres wider than the Airbus A380. The length is 73 metres. 

Thanks to the six Boeing 747 Pratt & Whitney PW4056 turbines installed, the payload is around 226,796 kg and the maximum take-off weight 589,670 kg. The take-off weight is therefore similar to that of the A380, which is currently the largest passenger aircraft, that sadly reached the end of its era. In contrast to the A380, the Stratolaunch can only accommodate three people in both fuselages. The boarding is also not very comfortable, as the crew has to crawl into the cockpit via tiny doors.

Stratolaunch has a range of 1,852 km and can be used for a mission for about 10 hours at a time. 

Who stands behind the Stratolaunch project?

The project was initiated and co-financed by Microsoft founder Paul Allen, who died just last year. He founded the company Stratolaunch Systems Corporation. 

In addition to Stratolaunch, several other companies are also working on similar systems. One of them is LauncherOne, developed by Virgin Orbit, the company of billionaire Richard Branson. It will also serve as a launch pad for high-altitude missiles. 

Interestingly, both Stratolaunch and Richard Branson rely on the same supplier. The company Scaled Composites, a subsidiary of the American aerospace group Northrop Grumman, already built the “White Knight Two” for Virgin Galactic. The concept of the Stratolaunch is very similar, but it was built three times as large.

by Jennifer Weitbrecht

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