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Watch the world’s largest plane ace its second test flight

The world’s largest airplane roared over California’s Mojave Desert on Thursday, April 29, in its second test flight.

Stratolaunch’s insanely huge “Roc” plane sports a record-breaking 117-meter (385-foot) wingspan. And at 76.3 meters (250 feet), it’s slightly longer than the world’s largest passenger plane, the Airbus A380. It also has six engines and 28 wheels.

Roc’s first test flight in two years started and finished at the Mojave Air and Space Port about 70 miles north of Los Angeles. The aircraft climbed to an altitude of 4,267 meters (14,000 feet) during its 3 hours and 14 minutes in the air, with the team describing the flight as a success.

Stratolaunch posted highlights of the flight in a series of tweets:

We are airborne!

— Stratolaunch (@Stratolaunch) April 29, 2021

Currently performing various flight test maneuvers.

— Stratolaunch (@Stratolaunch) April 29, 2021

Just completely a low approach over the runway.

— Stratolaunch (@Stratolaunch) April 29, 2021

Touchdown!! Successful flight tests to round out the day. What a beautiful sight.

— Stratolaunch (@Stratolaunch) April 29, 2021

“Stratolaunch is advancing our nation’s ability to be a worldwide leader in the hypersonic market,” Stratolaunch Chief Technology Officer Daniel R. Millman said in a release. “Our flight today gets us another step closer to our promise of delivering the world’s premier hypersonic flight test service.”

Stratolaunch was founded in 2011 by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The original aim was to build a system for launching small satellites to space, but after New York-based Cerberus Capital Management acquired the company in 2019, Stratolaunch switched its focus to hypersonic testing and research, putting access to space on the back burner.

This week’s test flight helped the team to further prepare Roc as a carrier aircraft for launches of the company’s upcoming hypersonic testbed vehicle, Talon-A (below).

An illustration of Talon-A, a Mach 6-class vehicle designed to make hypersonic testing more routine. Stratolaunch

Talon-A is described by Stratolaunch as a fully reusable, autonomous, liquid rocket-powered Mach 6-class hypersonic vehicle that will provide more than 60 seconds of hypersonic flight test conditions before gliding back for an autonomous landing on a conventional runway.

The company’s hypersonic program, announced last year, is developing a variant of the Hadley liquid rocket engine, which is being designed by Colorado-based Ursa Major Technologies specifically for the Talon-A testbed vehicle.

Stratolaunch is now working on the creation of a Talon-A Separation Test Article, which will be the first Talon-A vehicle carried and released by Roc, and also the first rocket-powered Talon-A vehicle.

“We’re focused on safely and securely releasing operational hypersonic vehicles from our carrier aircraft,” said Zachary Krevor, chief operating officer of Stratolaunch. “The test flight today provided valuable insights and data to help us continue this journey.”

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Trevor Mogg
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