The largest composite aircraft in the world, the Stratolaunch, successfully completed its first flight from the Mojave Air & Spaceport last week with former U.S. Air Force F-16 pilot Evan Thomas at the controls. Hanna Steplewska, Stratolaunch’s vp of business development said, “Thomas specializes in experimental flight test, aviation and test safety, aircraft stability and control testing, as well as the operational leadership.”
The Stratolaunch, powered by six Pratt & Whitney PW4056 engines, is a mobile launch platform that will enable airline-style access to space that is convenient, affordable and routine. The aircraft’s wing spans 385 feet, 65-feet wider than Howard Hughes Spruce Goose and 161 feet wider than a Boeing 747-8. The reinforced center wing can support multiple launch vehicles, weighing up to a total of 500,000 pounds.
The Stratolaunch lifted off at 06:58 AM PDT, eventually reaching a maximum speed of 189 miles per hour. The aircraft flew for 2.5 hours over the Mojave Desert at altitudes up to 17,000 feet. As part of the initial flight, the pilots performed a variety of flight control maneuvers to calibrate speed and test flight control systems, including roll doublets, yawing maneuvers, pushovers and pull-ups, and steady heading side slips. They also conducted simulated landing approach exercises at a max altitude of 15,000 feet mean sea level.
Stratolaunch was founded in 2011 by the late Paul G. Allen an original funder of SpaceShipOne, to safeguard Earth for future generations. He believed in enabling convenient, affordable, and routine, airline-style access to space that empowers the world’s problem solvers to collect rich and actionable data and drive advancements in science, research, and technology from space.