World’s Largest Plane, Stratolaunch Roc Takes Flight Over California’s Mojave Desert

Stratolaunch is a company founded by the late Paul G. Allen that is trying to make it easier and less costly to put satellites into orbit. Sadly the late Paul Allen didn't live to see his dream take flight, however. Unlike Elon Musk's SpaceX , the way Stratolaunch plans to put satellites into orbit has nothing to do with rockets launched from the ground; rather the company will use what it calls the "world's largest aircraft" to carry satellites as high into the atmosphere as possible, before launching them into orbit. The aircraft that will heft those satellites off the ground is called Roc, and it had its maiden flight recently.

roc chase

The massive aircraft sports a dual fuselage design with a large gap between the fuselages and six engines total. There are three engines on each side of the aircraft. The Stratolaunch Roc took flight on April 13 at 0658 PDT from the Mojave Air & Space Port and reached a maximum speed of 189 mph during its two and a half hour flight over the desert.

roc front

During the flight, the aircraft climbed to 17,000 feet as the pilots evaluated performance and handling qualities. After the flight tests were complete, Roc returned to the Mojave Air and Space Port. Stratolaunch CEO Jean Floyd said that it was "a fantastic first flight."

roc liftoff

Maneuvers that the pilots performed during the maiden flight included various flight control maneuvers to calibrate speed and test the flight control systems. The maneuvers included roll doublets, yawing maneuvers, pushovers and pull-ups, and steady heading side slips. The pilots also conducted simulated landing approach exercises at a maximum altitude of 15,000 feet.

Stratolaunch says that the reinforced section of the center wing between the dual fuselages can support multiple launch vehicles weighing up to 500,000 pounds. There is no indication of when the next test flight may take place or how far away a commercial launch might be. If Stratolaunch completes all of its test flights, it could give SpaceX and other private satellite launch companies serious competition.