Paul Allen Shows Off World's Largest Airplane

Six years after Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen started up Stratolaunch Systems, the billionaire's air-launch venture brought its gigantic twin-fuselage airplane out in the open for the first time today. The world's biggest aircraft weighs in at 500,000 pounds (226,796 kilograms) and has the world's largest plane wingspan, measuring 385 feet. The "Stratolaunch" has a 385-foot wingspan and is created to release rockets to carry satellites into space.

The aircraft will be ready for its first demonstration as early as 2019.

The Stratolaunch is set for payloads of up to 250,000kg, which it needs to hold equipment that will launch satellites into orbit from the normal altitude of a commercial airplane - a concept referred to as low-earth orbit.

Space.com reports the aircraft is created to launch rockets into orbit from an altitude of 30,000 feet. Stratolaunch says the aircraft will one day be able to deliver as many as three rockets into orbit on a single mission. Fueling tests will begin in the coming days, followed by engine runs, taxi tests, and finally first flight.

The giant plane is created to launch rockets into orbit from an altitude of around 30,000 feet.

The Stratolaunch was built by Scaled Composites and is similar in form and function to Scaled's aircraft built to ferry spaceships into the air and release them for independent rocket rides beyond the atmosphere, a service Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic intends to offer to paying passengers. The twin-fuselage aircraft is the world's largest airplane, measured by wingspan.

The combination of massive jet thrust and a huge wingspan let the Stratolaunch plane lift a mind-boggling half-million pounds of payload, which is good considering it has to carry three rockets. To accomplish this, Stratolaunch announced a partnership with Orbital ATK, who will provide the first few vehicles that will launch from the carrier. It also has 28 wheels and six 747 jet engines. "This is a first-of-its-kind aircraft, so we're going to be diligent throughout testing and continue to prioritize the safety of our pilots, crew and staff", said Jean Floyd, Stratolaunch's chief executive officer in a statement. "We have already started preparations for launch vehicle delivery to our Mojave facilities".

  • Zachary Reyes