Microsoft co-founder’s dream Stratolaunch jet takes ’emotional’ flight with giant wingspan
LOS ANGELES (AP) — A giant six-engine aircraft with the world’s longest wingspan completed what company officials called a superb initial flight over California’s Mojave Desert this weekend, bringing to life a dream held by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen.
Stratolaunch Systems Corp. chief executive Jean Floyd said the aircraft made a “spectacular” landing that was on the mark. Stratolaunch, which was founded by Allen, is vying to be a contender in the market for air-launching small satellites. He died in October.
“It was an emotional moment for me, to personally watch this majestic bird take flight, to see Paul Allen’s dream come to life in front of my very eyes,” Floyd told a teleconference briefing.
Floyd said that as the plane lifted off, “I did whisper a ‘thank you’ to Paul for allowing me to be part of this remarkable achievement.”
The behemoth, twin-fuselage Stratolaunch jet lifted off from Mojave Air and Space Port shortly before 7 a.m. Saturday and climbed into the desert sky 70 miles (112 kilometers) north of Los Angeles. The jet flew 2 ½ hours, achieving a maximum speed of 189 mph (304 kph) and altitudes up to 17,000 feet (5,181 meters), the company said.
Test pilot Evan Thomas of Scaled Composites LLC, which built the aircraft, said the flight overall was “fantastic” and for the most part the plane flew as predicted.
“The airplane very nicely, smoothly rotated and really just lifted off the ground,” he said. “It definitely was ready to fly and wanted to fly and climbed out quickly.”
Thomas said there were “a few little things that were off-nominal but really for a first flight it was spot-on.” He did not specify what those things were, and briefing participants did not take questions.
The aircraft is designed to carry as many as three satellite-laden rockets at a time under the center of its enormous wing, which stretches 385 feet (117 meters) — a longer wingspan than any other aircraft.