LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The world's largest aircraft took off at the Mojave Desert in California on Saturday, the first flight to the carbon composite aircraft built by Stratolaunch Systems Corp, started by late Microsoft founder Paul Allen, into which the company goes lucrative private space market.
The world's largest aircraft, built by late Paul Allen's company Stratolaunch Systems, makes its first test flight in Mojave, California, USA April 13, 2019. REUTERS / Gene Blevins
The white flight called Roc, which has a Wingspan length of a US soccer field, run by six engines on twin bodies, took off shortly before 7 pm at Pacific time (1400 GMT), and stayed for over two hours before returning safely to the Mojave Air and Space Port as a host of hundreds of people cheered.
"What a wonderful first flight," said Jean Floyd, Stratolaunch's CEO, in a statement posted on the company's website.
"Today's aircraft promotes our mission to provide a flexible alternative to ground-launched systems," said Floyd. "We are incredibly proud of the Stratolaunch team, today's flight crew, our partners at Northrup Grumman's Scaled Composites and Mojave Air and Space Port. "
The aircraft is designed to release rockets and other spacecraft weighing up to 500,000 pounds at a height of 35,000 feet and has been billed by the company that makes satellite deployment as easy as booking an airline.
Saturday's plane, which saw the plane reach a maximum speed of 189 miles per hour and altitudes of 17,000 feet, was intended to test the performance and handling quality, according to Stratolaunch.
Allen, who founded Microsoft with Bill Gates in 1975, announced in 2011 that he had formed privately funded Stratolaunch.
The company seeks to increase demand in the coming years for vessels that can launch satellites in orbit, compete in the US with other space tankers and industry stands like Elon Musks SpaceX and United Launch Alliance – a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
Stratolaunch has said it intends to launch its first rockets from Roc by 2020 at the earliest. Allen died in October 2018 while suffering from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, only months after the aircraft's development was unveiled.
"We all know that Paul would be proud of witnessing today's historic achievement," said Jody Allen, leader of Vulcan Inc and manager of the Paul G. Allen Trust. "The plane is a remarkable technical achievement and we congratulate everyone involved."
Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; editing of Grant McCool