THE WORLD’s largest airplane took to the skies with a prototype of a new hypersonic vehicle for the first time last week.
Stretching 383 feet wide – more than twenty feet longer than a football field – Stratolaunch’s carrier plane took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California on Friday for a just over five hour long flight.
The carrier plane held a prototype of a 28-foot-long Talon-A hypersonic vehicle at the centre of the aircraft and reached a maximum altitude of 23,000 feet with it during the flight, according to the company.
The flight was the eighth for the Roc carrier in three years, but the first carrying this particular vehicle.
Additional tests are anticipated in the coming months, including a test of the Talon-A vehicle over the Pacific Ocean later this year.
The purpose of Friday’s test was to measure the aerodynamic loads on the hypersonic vehicle while mated to the Roc Carrier.
“We have conducted a variety of ground tests in anticipation of this first captive carry flight, and with each successful test milestone achieved we have built confidence that the hardware will perform exactly as it was designed,” Dr. Zachary Krevor, Stratolaunch Chief Executive Officer and President said in a statement.
“It’s exhilarating to see the team’s hard work come to life and see the vehicles fly as an integrated system.”
Stratolaunch expects to deliver hypersonic flight services on the Talon-A vehicle to the government and commercial services in 2023.
The company describes these vehicles as rocket-propelled, autonomous, and reusable test beds that can travel at speeds above Mach 5.
“Testing and production are accelerating as we push forward to meet our commitment of providing hypersonic flight test service to our customers next year,” Krevor added.
“Our team will continue accomplishing more complex test milestones as we progress to our first hypersonic flight.”
The massive Roc Carrier plane first took flight in April 2019 and is designed to launch rockets into space.
With six engines, twin cockpits and 28 wheels, the aircraft dwarfs the size of common commercial jets like a 747 and Airbus by more than a hundred feet.
In order to take off, the Roc plane requires a three-person crew which includes a pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer.
While it appears the plane has two cockpits, a pilot and co-pilot only sit on the right side of the plane.
Meanwhile the left side remains unpressurised and reportedly contained flight data systems.
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