World's largest plane makes maiden flight

Stratolaunch pops a wheelie during January's high-speed taxi test

The aircraft, the largest in the world by wingspan, took off from Mojave Air and Space Port in California at 9:58 a.m.

The world's largest aircraft, developed by aerospace venture Stratolaunch, completed its first flight test on Saturday.

The change in plans was reportedly sparked by the death of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who started Stratolaunch Systems in 2011.

Though Stratolaunch is the largest plane by wingspan, another craft, the helium-filled Airlander 10, takes the title of the longest aircraft now flying with a length of 302 feet (92 m). It comes just three months after Stratolaunch Systems, the company behind the effort, laid off "more than 50" employees and canceled efforts to develop its own rockets. The jet flew 2 ½ hours, achieving a maximum speed of 189 mph and altitudes up to 17,000 feet, the company said.

According to Stratolaunch Systems, the results of today's test flight include "a variety of flight control maneuvers to calibrate speed and test flight control systems, including roll doublets, yawing maneuvers, pushovers and pull-ups, and steady heading side slips" as well as "simulated landing approach exercises at a max altitude of 15,000 feet mean sea level".

Floyd said in a teleconference briefing that it was unbelievable to "watch this majestic bird take flight" and he whispered a "thank-you" to Allen, who died in October 2018.

Among the many exciting attributes to this flying machine, the most fascinating one is that its wingspan is bigger than an average American football field. It really just lifted off the ground and definitely was ready to fly and wanted to fly.

Powered by the same type of engines used by Boeing 747s, the aircraft is created to take off at a maximum weight of 1.3 million pounds (589,676 kilograms). Its twin fuselages - sort of the airplane equivalent of a catamaran - are 238 feet long. The unusual aircraft, built by the legendary aeronautical engineering company Scaled Composites in the Mojave Desert, has two fuselages and is powered by six Boeing 747 engines.

Stratolaunch CEO Jean Floyd said the aircraft made a spectacular landing.

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