Airplanes have been a mode of transport for nearly a century, but all this time, all they did was deliver people or cargo from one part of the world to another. To deliver anything to the low earth orbit or the outer space, we always needed rockets. World’s largest airplane Stratolaunch is an air-launch-to-orbit aircraft imagined by Paul Allen, Microsoft’s co-founder.
The airplane began development years ago and finally rolled out of its hangar for a public display back in June. The plane looks nothing like the usual airplanes that we usually see, so many people were skeptical about the design. The Stratolaunch is due to take its first flight in 2019, but the team has achieved the first round of engine testing. They are strengthening the groundwork to get the beast ready for launching satellites into the stratosphere by 2019.
Stratolaunch is not the only company working on an air-launch-to-orbit aircraft, but it has just crossed a very significant milestone in the development of the first-ever air-launch-to-orbit aircraft. The plane is powered by six Pratt & Whitney turbofan engines from Boeing 747-400. The engine tests spanned over three phases; the first test was a “dry motor” run that used auxiliary power, then a “wet motor” run with jet fuel, and the last one was an idling test where all the six engines were observed for proper operation.
This was only the first phase of engine tests and Jean Floyd, CEO of the company, added to the announcement,
“Over the next few months, we will continue to test the aircraft’s engines at higher power levels and varying configurations, culminating to the start of taxi tests.”
The Stratolaunch is a beast with a wingspan of 385 ft (117 meters), greater than a standard football field. After the next phase of engine tests, the company will move on to taxi tests to bring the aircraft closer to its success.