Just a little while back, the Airlander 10 emerged as the largest plane on the planet, thriving in the maiden flight, but crashed in the next and finally flew again without a hitch. While the plane has emerged successful, it is no longer the largest plane on the earth, and the one beating it is the Stratolaunch, that has been in construction for four years and just rolled out of its hangar for the first time.
The Stratolaunch has a wingspan of 117m (385 ft), greater than a football field. The 226,000 kg (500,000 lb) plane is designed to carry rockets to the stratosphere with an incredible payload of 249,476 kg (550,000 lb). The rockets are released before they fire their engines, and then make their way to space. The behemoth was constructed in a custom designed hangar spreading over 9593 square meters (103,257 square foot) in the Mojave desert and is powered by six Boeing 747 engines.
The craft was towed out of its hangar on its 28 wheel landing gear for its first public display but as the team prepares for the fueling tests, and the engine runs, the first flight is planned no sooner than 2019.
Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen launched Stratolaunch Systems about seven years ago, on a mission to develop an air-launch-to-orbit aircraft. The current technology for launching rockets into the orbit is extremely time consuming and costly, and the air launch system is planned to improve on that. The company has partnered with Orbital ATK for using the craft to launch Orbital Pegasus rockets into the orbit, and the first launch demonstration is expected in 2019.
A spinoff of Virgin Galactic called Virgin Orbit has the same aim, preparing to use a 747-400 for carrying rockets to an altitude of 10,670 m (35,000 feet) before releasing them but Stratolaunch is unique in its mission as the company is the only one designing a special aircraft for the purpose.