LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The world's largest aircraft launched Saturday over the Mojave Desert in California. The first flight for the Stratolaunch Systems Corp. Built carbon-composite aircraft, the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen launched the lucrative private space market.
The world's largest aircraft, built by Paul Allen's Stratolaunch Systems company, makes its first test flight in Mojave, California, USA, April 13, 2019. REUTERS / Gene Blevins
The white aircraft, called Roc, which has a span the length of an American football field and is powered by six engines on a double hull, was in the air just before 7 am Pacific (1400 GMT) and stayed in the air for more than two hours He landed safely at Mojave Air and Space Port, cheered hundreds of people.
"What a fantastic first flight," Stratolaunch's Chief Executive Officer Jean Floyd said in a statement posted on the company's website.
"Today's flight supports our mission to provide a flexible alternative to ground-based systems," said Floyd. "We are incredibly proud of the Stratolaunch team, today's flight crew, our partners at Scaled Composites of Northrup Grumman, and the Mojave Air and Space Port."
The aircraft is expected to drop missiles and other spacecraft weighing up to 500,000 pounds at a height of 35,000 feet and was charged by the company because using satellites is as easy as booking a flight.
The flight on Saturday, when the plane had reached a top speed of 189 mph and a height of 17,000 feet, should test its performance and handling characteristics, according to Stratolaunch.
Allen, who founded Microsoft in 1975 with Bill Gates, announced in 2011 that he had founded the privately funded Stratolaunch.
In the coming years, the company aims to increase demand for ships capable of orbiting satellites and competing in the US with other space carriers and developed nations such as Elon Musk's SpaceX and United Launch Alliance – a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
Stratolaunch has announced that the first missiles should be fired from the Roc in 2020 at the earliest. Allen died of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in October 2018, just months after the discovery of the aircraft.
"We all know that Paul was proud to witness the historic achievement of today," said Jody Allen, chairman of Vulcan Inc. and trustee of the Paul G. Allen Trust. "The aircraft is a remarkable technical achievement and we congratulate everyone involved."
Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Edited by Grant McCool