Stratolaunch Pitches World’s Largest Airplane to D.C.

Officials: The air-to-launch carrier can help U.S. develop hypersonic weapons—a ‘national security imperative.’

Top Stratolaunch company executives overseeing the world’s largest airplane by wingspan underscored their commitment to hypersonic weapons research Tuesday, during a news conference outside Washington, D.C. 

The media roundtable near the nation’s capital comes in the wake of five successful test flights of Stratolaunch’s gigantic twin-fuselage, six-engine airplane built by Scaled Composites. The aircraft—nicknamed Roc—is in the middle of a test campaign aimed at developing it as an air-to-launch carrier to launch multiple payloads, including reusable hypersonic testbed vehicles. 

Led by Stratolaunch president and CEO Dr. Zachary Krevor, the event marks the company’s return last March to the D.C. area, where officials will continue to strengthen and expand contacts with defense companies and government officials. 

The office—located in the Crystal City District of Arlington, Virginia, near the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon—will serve as a local focal point for Stratolaunch business and government relations.  

The renewed presence is “resonating with a lot of key stakeholders out here about how we can provide value for our hypersonic acceleration services,” Krevor said. “Really, the goal for us is to demonstrate the commitment to our country that we are here to help contribute to that acceleration and what’s needed for our hypersonic capabilities as we really try to lean ahead of our adversaries.”

Developing hypersonic weapons systems, the company said, is a “national security imperative.”

In recent years, the U.S. government has been funneling additional resources to counter hypersonic weapons development reported in Russia and China. The Pentagon’s investment in hypersonic research has been increasing significantly—from a budget request of $3.8 billion in FY2022 to a requested $4.7 billion in FY2023, according to the Congressional Research Service.

During Tuesday’s event, Stratolaunch officials made the case for its 200,000-square-foot facility at California’s Mojave Air and Space Port (KMHV), including Roc and the development of a reusable, autonomous, rocket-powered test vehicle called Talon-A that would launch from a pylon on Roc’s center wing. Talon-A flights would provide threat replication for customers conducting hypersonic weapons research. 

Comparing Roc and Talon to alternative air-to-launch platforms, such as the B-52, C-17, and C-5, officials said those legacy aircraft offered limited access and non-recoverable payloads. 

Talon-A’s flight envelopes are expected to include hypersonic cruise, boost glide, as well as custom flight profiles, officials said, and it will land horizontally on conventional runways after each test. 

They also touted Stratolaunch’s ability to provide high-fidelity onboard recording during test flights, with “real-world performance data that is critical to hypersonic technology advancement.”

After Roc and Talon complete regular operational testing—expected in the latter half of 2023—officials said they would have capacity for up to 52 sorties per year.

Upcoming test flights—the sixth and seventh for Roc—are expected to be completed early this summer and will focus on continued flight-envelope expansion, as well as additional testing of Roc’s 15-foot-by-15-foot, 8,000-pound pylon.  

Stratolaunch’s first separation test with a Talon demonstrator is expected to take place later this year.  

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