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World's largest plane completes a successful first flight

By mongeese · 9 replies
Apr 14, 2019
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  1. The Stratolaunch is 385 ft (117m) wide, 238 ft (73m) long and 50 ft (15m) tall. It weighs 500,000 pounds (250 tons) empty, but full of fuel and with a rocket payload, it can weigh as much as 1,300,000 pounds (650 tons). To push all that weight, it uses two fuselages each with three Boeing 747 engines attached that can take it up to 35,000 ft and 2,000 nautical miles (3,704km).

    “It was an emotional moment for me, personally, to watch this majestic bird take flight,” Stratolaunch’s CEO Jean Floyd said during a press call. "All of you have been very patient and very tolerant over the years waiting for us to get this big bird off the ground, and we finally did it.”

    The Stratolaunch is the furthest into the development of future rocket bearing aircraft, but it isn’t alone. There’s great demand for a way to launch rockets more cheaply and from more locations, and gigantic aircraft are reusable (unlike many rockets), can take off from most large airports and their flights are less weather dependent.

    Stratolaunch was formerly partnered with SpaceX, but the latter ended that partnership to focus on launching their reusable rockets. Stratolaunch has now made a deal with Northrop Grumman to launch their Pegasus rockets, the first privately developed rocket and the first to use an aircraft to launch it. However, at 29 the Pegasus is starting to show its age.

    While the flight was a proud moment for Stratolaunch, it was bittersweet for the many engineers that wished Microsoft and Stratolaunch founder Paul Allen could have celebrated the success. Allen passed away last October from non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. "Even though he wasn't there today, as the plane lifted gracefully from the runway, I did whisper a 'thank you' to Paul for allowing me to be a part of this remarkable achievement," Floyd said.

    While the flight was a success in every measure, there’s still a long road ahead. When asked, Stratolaunch employees couldn’t pin down a schedule for future flights and couldn’t guess when the first commercial operation might take place.

    Permalink to story.

  2. Vulcanproject

    Vulcanproject TS Evangelist Posts: 730   +1,056

    Howard Hughes-esque, in multiple aspects. White elephant might be harsh but they abandoned their own rocket development! Allen is gone, the funds have probably dried up.

    It'll probably just launch Pegasus XL rockets most of its life, which already have a perfectly adequate launch aircraft. It feels like an aircraft built to answer a question nobody asked, if it doesn't end up carrying heavier rockets.

    Someone (else) has to develop a small crewed vehicle or a larger rocket for this to actually be needed. Most concepts or attempts thus far haven't got serious backing. Let's see if that happens or this just ends up mothballed because of the cost to maintain as a one off.
    Olayinkaji likes this.
  3. Uncle Al

    Uncle Al TS Evangelist Posts: 5,377   +3,772

    Well, certainly larger than the Spruce Goose and flies a heck of a lot longer distances but one has to wonder just how long it will be maintained in air worthy condition. As said, with Allen gone the interest may die out, especially with Space-X making leaps and bounds ahead. Only time will tell ......
  4. MilwaukeeMike

    MilwaukeeMike TS Evangelist Posts: 3,160   +1,413

    Or not, since the story said "Stratolaunch has now made a deal with Northrop Grumman to launch their Pegasus rockets"
    pcnthuziast likes this.
  5. Vulcanproject

    Vulcanproject TS Evangelist Posts: 730   +1,056

    I feel that I may have written more than only what you quoted and replied to though. Hmmm, I'm sure I did......
  6. George Campbell

    George Campbell TS Rookie

    If you are launching a rocket and throwing it away, then you are no longer in the launch business. Whatever rocket this big airplane launches, that rocket needs to fly back and land to be used again. SpaceX put a 16,000 lb satellite in geosynchronous orbit in April 2019 for $90 million. Nobody else in the launch business can do it for less than $200 million. Throwing away rockets, and especially rocket engines on each flight is economic suicide.
  7. mcborge

    mcborge TS Guru Posts: 576   +467

    Could this plane be used to launch the boeing X37 shuttle or something similar. That would solve the problem of wasted hardware.
  8. stewi0001

    stewi0001 TS Evangelist Posts: 2,194   +1,617

    I know it would be pointless, but it would be cool if the 2 halves could detach and reattach during flight.
  9. JamesSWD

    JamesSWD TS Maniac Posts: 331   +182

    That center connection/spar just rubs me the wrong way. Under perfect conditions, it appears to work fine. But it seems that any type of unexpected torsional, sheer, flex, or other loads could cause it to warp or fail catastrophically. For example, what if an engine or two on one side flame out, such as Sully'd by a bird strike. That would instantly cause a thrust imbalance that would stress the center spar's load in several ways until the computers/pilots can compensate. Or if all three engines on one side failed for any reason, can the spar maintain that unbalanced load on one side till a safe landing?
  10. dualkelly

    dualkelly TS Booster Posts: 75   +52

    "Boeing 747 engines "
    There is no such thing as Boeing engines. Boeing makes aircraft frames only. There are only three jet engine manufacturers GE, Pratt & Whitney, and Rolls Royce. Jet engines also have a Time Between Overhaul(TBO), in which they must be taken off the plane and sent back to the manufacturer for rebuild and repair.

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