World’s Largest Plane With 117-Meter Wingspan Performs Its Latest Trick

A pioneering aerospace vehicle made its debut powered flight last week – and it was all thanks to a monstrous aircraft armed with a wingspan longer than a football field.

With a wingspan of 117 meters (384 feet), Stratolaunch’s Roc is considered the world’s largest plane in operation. When empty, the twin-body plane weighs a mammoth 226,796 kilograms (500,000 pounds) and requires six Pratt & Whitney PW4056 engines to take flight. 

It is basically a giant workhorse of the skies, capable of carrying extremely heavy payloads to high altitudes. In total, its maximum take-off weight is a whopping 589,670 kilograms (1,300,000 pounds).

In the latest demonstration of its might, Roc recently took part in the first powered flight of the Talon-A test vehicle (TA-1), which is aiming to pave the way towards the first “privately funded, reusable[,] hypersonic” vehicle in the US, according to a statement.

On March 9, 2024, Roc took off from Mojave Air and Space Port at Rutan Field in California with the TA-1 vehicle strapped to its undercarriage. TA-1 was then released, ignited its engines, and performed its first-ever powered flight. 

On its 14th test flight, Stratolaunch’s Roc air launch platform takes off from Mojave Air and Space Port at Rutan Field on March 9, 2024, with the Talon vehicle on its center-wing pylon.
Image credit: Stratolaunch

Stratolaunch was fairly cagey about the flight details, but says it was a success and claims the TA-1 aerospace vehicle almost reached hypersonic speeds of Mach 5, which is five times the speed of sound.

“Today was a great day for the Stratolaunch team. I am extremely proud of their perseverance to reach this point. The successful outcome of the test is a direct result of the team’s technical prowess and professionalism,” said Dr Zachary Krevor, chief executive officer for Stratolaunch.

“While I can’t share the specific altitude and speed TA-1 reached due to proprietary agreements with our customers, we are pleased to share that in addition to meeting all primary and customer objectives of the flight, we reached high supersonic speeds approaching Mach 5 and collected a great amount of data at an incredible value to our customers,” added Krevor.

Stratolaunch also released a video of the TA-1 vehicle departing from Roc, which you can view below. 

                     

Getting to this point has been somewhat of a rollercoaster ride for Stratolaunch. The company was started in 2011 by Burt Rutan and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen with the target of developing orbital rockets. 

Sadly, Allen died in 2018 at age 65 due to complications from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, forcing the company to lay off some staff and discontinue some rocket development. The following year, Stratolaunch was then bought by a private equity firm that refocused the company on hypersonic vehicle technology, rather than rockets. 

It’s had a bumpy journey, but it looks like all is back on track. Off the back of this month’s TA-1 test flight, Stratolaunch is looking to carry out the first flight of its next-generation vehicle – TA-2 – later this year.

“Our goal with this flight was to continue our risk reduction approach for TA-2’s first reusable flight and be steadfast on our commitment of delivering maximum value to our customers. We are excited to review the data from today’s test and use it as we plan our next steps toward TA-2’s first flight later this year,” said Dr Krevor.

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