The world’s largest all-composite aircraft successfully completed its maiden flight over the weekend, reaching altitudes up to 17,000 feet and conducting flight control manoeuvres.
Designed to launch rockets into low Earth orbit, the dual fuselage Stratolaunch took off at 0658 local time on April 13, 2019 from the Mojave Air & Space Port in California.
Powered by six Pratt & Whitney PW4056 engines, the 238’ (73m) long aircraft achieved a maximum speed of 189mph during its 2.5 hour sortie over the Mojave Desert.
“What a fantastic first flight,” said Jean Floyd, CEO of Stratolaunch Systems Corporation. “[The] flight furthers our mission to provide a flexible alternative to ground launched systems. We are incredibly proud of the Stratolaunch team, today’s flight crew, our partners at Northrup Grumman’s Scaled Composites and the Mojave Air and Space Port.”
As part of the initial flight, the test team conducted standard aircraft testing exercises, including flight control manoeuvres to calibrate speed and test flight control systems, including roll doublets, yawing manoeuvres, pushovers and pull-ups, and steady heading side slips. They also conducted simulated landing approach exercises at a maximum altitude of 15,000 feet mean sea level.
With 10 hours mission time and range of 1,000nm (1,852km) Stratolaunch is expected to provide access to space that is described by the company as ‘convenient, affordable and routine’.
Capable of over 12 missions per year, the aircraft – which boasts a 385’ (117m) wingspan – is designed with a reinforced centre wing that is expected to support multiple launch vehicles, weighing up to a total of 500,000 pounds (226,796kg).
When fully operational, the world’s largest all-composite aircraft will be able to release one or more launch vehicles from a cruising altitude of 35,000 ft (10,668 m) for ‘rapid constellation deployment to different inclinations’.