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Stratolaunch Unveils World's Largest Airplane

Thursday, June 8, 2017

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Stratolaunch (Seattle)—the private spaceflight company of Microsoft founder Paul Allen—teamed up with Scaled Composites (Mojave, California) to finally pull the world’s largest airplane from its hangar in Mojave, California, last week.

Stratolaunch

At 385 feet long, the airplane has the widest wingspan of any airplane currently on the market—even trumping the Hughes H-4 Hercules by 65 feet.

The aircraft is designed to launch rockets into the sky from low-Earth orbit, which follows Allen’s fascination with rockets.

At 385 feet wide, the Stratolaunch craft has the widest wingspan of any airplane currently on the market—even trumping the Hughes H-4 Hercules by 65 feet. (It’s also, Fortune points out, 4.5 times wider than the Millennium Falcon.)

The aircraft is 238 feet from nose to tail, and stands 50 feet tall. While the Stratolaunch starts at 500,000 pounds, it is designed to carry a payload of 550,000 pounds, which sets the maximum takeoff weight at a staggering 1,300,000 pounds.

Allen hopes to use the Stratolaunch craft to carry rockets that will launch commercial satellites into near-earth orbit.

Materials

According to Composite Manufacturing Magazine, the jet’s airframe is composed primarily of carbon fiber reinforced polymer. The plane’s wing spars each measure 62 feet long, and are constructed of carbon composite components. To cure the spars appropriately, Scaled Composites constructed a mobile oven that could move along the spar. Prior to this, there was no oven large enough to hold the entire component.   

In the weeks prior to the unveiling, Stratolaunch removed the scaffolding surrounding the aircraft. This put all 500,000 pounds of the airplane’s weight on its 28 wheels for the first time. The purpose of the aircraft’s unveiling is twofold: to mark the completion of the construction phase, and to begin conducting aircraft fueling tests. According to Stratolaunch, these are the crucial first steps towards preparing the aircraft for ground testing, engine runs, taxi tests and first flight.

Future Testing

Stratolaunch says the coming weeks and months will see the initial testing phases for the behemoth of an aircraft. Tests will include ground and flightline testing at the Mojave Air and Space Port. Stratolaunch acknowledges that given that this kind of aircraft is truly a first, the company will remain diligent throughout testing. The aircraft’s first launch demonstration could occur as early as 2019.

   

Tagged categories: Aerospace; Project Management; Research and development

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