The world’s largest aircraft has smashed through another milestone in its ongoing development by successfully carrying the hypersonic prototype vehicle Talon-A over the Mojave desert. The Stratolaunch Roc, which is essentially two large airliners attached together by the wing, is designed to carry the Talon-A to a high altitude, where the Mach 6 rocket test bed will then be released for testing of hypersonic aircraft.
"This is the first integrated flight test of our Talon launch system," Brandon Wood, Stratolaunch vice president of programs and operations, said in a teleconference, reports Space.com.
"We'll progress from here to more complicated, and certainly more productive flights, for our hypersonic testbed."
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. Roc has a wingspan of 117 meters (384 feet), which is the length of a football pitch, so it really is remarkable that this plane can even fly.
To lift such a behemoth into the sky, the Roc has no less than six 747 jumbo jet engines, carrying all 226,796 kilograms (500,000 pounds) of the plane to a maximum height of 11,000 meters (35,000 feet) when carrying the Talon-A.
While the Roc is a triumph in modern aircraft design, it really isn’t the star of the show. The main focus of it all is the Talon-A, which will allow interested parties to test different payloads in realistic hypersonic conditions. Hypersonic aircraft are of high importance in both war and more peaceful applications, and a reliable and reusable test platform for such systems will be in high demand.
The Roc and Talon-A will now have a drop test in December and, if successful, the Talon-A-1 will debut in early 2023. Following that, subsequent hypersonic test models (the TA2 and TA3) will then be fielded.