World's largest aircraft makes first flight

The white airplane called Roc has a 110m wingspan and is powered by six engines on a twin fuselage. It took off shortly before 10pm Singapore time on Saturday and flew for more than two hours before landing safely back at the Mojave Air and Space Por
The white airplane called Roc has a 110m wingspan and is powered by six engines on a twin fuselage. It took off shortly before 10pm Singapore time on Saturday and flew for more than two hours before landing safely back at the Mojave Air and Space Port. The plane is built by Stratolaunch Systems, started by late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

US plane built to put satellites in orbit expected to launch first rocket as early as 2020

LOS ANGELES • The world's largest aircraft took off over the Mojave Desert in California on Saturday, the first flight for the carbon-composite plane built by Stratolaunch Systems, started by late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, as the company enters the lucrative private space market.

The white airplane called Roc, which has a wingspan the length of an American football field (110m) and is powered by six engines on a twin fuselage, took to the air shortly before 7am Pacific time (10pm Singapore time) and stayed aloft for more than two hours before landing safely back at the Mojave Air and Space Port as a crowd of hundreds of people cheered.

"What a fantastic first flight," Stratolaunch chief executive officer Jean Floyd said in a statement posted on the company's website.

"Today's flight furthers our mission to provide a flexible alternative to ground launched systems," Mr Floyd said.

"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."

The plane is designed to drop rockets and other space vehicles weighing up to 226,800kg at an altitude of 10,700m and has been billed by the company as making satellite deployment as "easy as booking an airline flight".

Saturday's flight, which saw the plane reach a maximum speed of 304kmh and altitudes of 5,200m, was meant to test its performance and handling qualities, according to Stratolaunch.

Mr Allen, who co-founded Microsoft with Mr Bill Gates in 1975, announced in 2011 that he had formed the privately funded Stratolaunch.

The company seeks to cash in on higher demand in coming years for vessels that can put satellites in orbit, competing in the United States with other space entrepreneurs and industry stalwarts such as Elon Musk's SpaceX and United Launch Alliance - a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Stratolaunch has said that it intends to launch its first rockets from the Roc in 2020 at the earliest.

Mr Allen died in October last year while suffering from non-Hodgkins lymphoma, just months after the plane's development was unveiled.

 

"We all know Paul would have been proud to witness today's historic achievement," said Ms Jody Allen, chairman of Vulcan and Trustee of the Paul G. Allen Trust.

"The aircraft is a remarkable engineering achievement and we congratulate everyone involved."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2019, with the headline 'World's largest aircraft makes first flight'. Print Edition | Subscribe