Massive Aircraft Hits the Runway


The Stratolaunch is a massive aircraft that has a 385-foot wingspan, 25-feet longer than a football field. The aircraft has been in development for more than seven years now and yet one question remains: Will it ever fly?

This week, the aircraft came one step closer when it pulled out of the hangar for some taxi tests with all flight surfaces in place. Stratolaunch's first low-speed taxi tests took place in Mojave, CA back in December 2017. This time, the tests were a little more aggressive and the plane reached taxi speeds of 40 knots (46 mph).

While that might work for a smaller, lighter aircraft, a Boeing 737 carrying a 100,000-lb payload, for example, needs to hit 130 knots (150 mph) to take off. Note that a 737 has a 117-ft wingspan, a little less than a third of this football field trying to make it in the sky. The Stratolaunch, powered by six Pratt & Whitney turbofan engines, should be able to carry payloads of up to 550,000 pounds.

The company was founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in 2011. He wanted to take his fortune and find a way to provide researchers with easier access to low Earth orbit in a move to advance science, research, and technology.

Stratolaunch, which Fast Company just named one of the world's 50 most innovative companies in 2018, hopes to make Allen’s dream a reality with its first launch demonstration as early as 2019.

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