Stratolaunch – aircraft

Stratolaunch was rolled out of its hangar in the California desert recently, unveiled by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. Proudly claiming to be the “world’s biggest airplane”, this aircraft surpasses Hughes H-4 Hercules, also known as  “Spruce Goose”, the enormous wooden plane that made its first and only flight in 1947. Stratolaunch has six jet engines of Boeing 747, 28 wheels and a huge wingspan, which is even longer than the length of a football field! It is a dual-hulled aircraft. Stratolaunch Systems, (the manufacturer of the plane) expects to demonstrate its first rocket launch by the year 2019.

The wingspan of 385 feet (117-metre) and weighing up to 580 tons makes it to be the largest plane in the world. Though it isn’t meant to carry passengers but is designed to launch rockets into space from the air. It stands 50 feet tall and is likely to have a range of 2,000 nautical miles. It will fly at an altitude of around 35,000 feet, which is roughly the same as the present commercial jets fly at. The plane is designed to carry a rocket and payload totalling up to 250,000 kgs.

This twin-fuselage aircraft has engines, landing gear, avionics and other parts same as that of the Boeing 747 jets but the wings and skin are handmade of lightweight composite material. When this project was kicked off in the year 2011, the development cost was expected to be around USD300 million, but it is not known today how much it has cost to the manufacturer to roll out Stratolaunch.

The aircraft is designed to launch multiple rockets while flying, which can evade the weather problems that afflict many rocket launches. Stratolaunch Systems is not the only company attempting to launch rockets from planes but Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit has also announced plans to do so in 2015. Even other entrepreneurs including Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin are in the similar ventures.