World’s Largest Airplane Soars Over Mojave Desert In Fifth Successful Test Flight

Roc in the air during the test flight on May 4. Image Credit: Stratolaunch

Built to carry rockets and supersonic aircraft three at a time, the largest-wingspan aircraft ever built has just completed its fifth test flight, reaching a huge milestone in pushing it into service. The Stratolaunch carrier aircraft soared to an altitude of 6,858 meters (22,500 feet) and flew for almost five hours, testing a new addition to the center of the aircraft that will be used to attach and launch hypersonic vehicles.  

While the Antonov-225 “Mriya”, which tragically perished in the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, was technically the largest aircraft ever built (using the plane’s overall dimensions, including weight and fuselage length), Roc – named after the legendary bird of prey in Middle Eastern mythology – absolutely demolishes all others when it comes to wingspan.

Using a configuration that is essentially two 747s joined together wing-to-wing, the Stratolaunch has a wingspan of 117 meters (384 feet) compared to the An-225's 88.4 meters (290 feet), and there’s a reason for the incredible width.  

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The Stratolaunch carrier is custom-designed by Scaled Composites to carry massive rocket and vehicle payloads, with a maximum takeoff weight of 590 tons. This falls only slightly short of the An-225, but the configuration allows a large rocket to be carried in the center and to then be launched at high altitude. Specifically, this plane will be carrying Talon-A vehicles, a Mach 6 hypersonic test bed, designed for scientific and technological testing of hypersonic vehicles. 

The latest test was designed to test the performance and handling of the aircraft with the pylon attachment, as well as testing the landing gear. 

"Today’s successful flight validates important hardware improvements to the carrier aircraft,” said Dr Zachary Krevor, Stratolaunch Chief Executive Officer and President in a statement. “The pylon is a crucial component of our combined launch system, and I am proud of the team’s timely and quality integration work that occurred since our last test flight. It is through their dedication that we continue to make steady progress toward achieving our next milestones of Talon-A flight tests later this year.”

Stratolaunch is planning the first hypersonic flight testing in 2023.

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