Stratolaunch aircraft completes first flight

On April 13, the world’s largest composite aircraft flew for 149 minutes in its initial flight test.
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The world’s largest aircraft by wingspan, built in collaboration between Scaled Composites LLC (Mojave, Calif., U.S.) and Stratolaunch (Seattle, Wash., U.S.), completed its initial flight on April 13, 2019. During the flight, the team tested out specific handling qualities to validate the design.

The aircraft took flight at 6:58 PDT on the runway in Mojave, Calif. The plane, piloted by Evan Thomas and Chris Guarente, flew for 149 minutes, reaching a maximum speed of 165 KIAS before landing safely at 9:27 PDT.

Scaled Composites has been working with Stratolaunch since 2011 designing, building and testing the world’s largest composite aircraft. Paul Allen’s mission for Stratolaunch was developing an air launch platform to make access to space more convenient, reliable and routine, Scaled says, and this aircraft continues this mission.

The Stratolaunch aircraft, Scaled Model 351, is a twin‐fuselage launch platform built to deliver payloads into space at multiple orbits and inclinations during one mission. According to Scaled, the large aircraft project has been an idea Burt Rutan has played with for more than 20 years, with various designs under exploration. Prior to the final contract, Scaled worked to validate fabrication costs by building demonstration pieces to lower the cost of pounds of material labor to man hour. This factor drove the overarching design of the aircraft: flat‐sided fuselages with a mostly straight wing. 

“The Scaled team excels at tackling the hardest problems in aviation. We have test flown an average of one new aircraft type per year over our 37-year history,” says Cory Bird, president of Scaled Composites. “Together with Stratolaunch, we have reached another aviation first by flying the world’s largest all‐composite aircraft and moving closer to increasing the accessibility of space launch.”

“Northrop Grumman’s Scaled Composites team has once again set a new standard in aviation with the first flight of the Stratolaunch aircraft. Scaled’s ability to design, build and test is second to none,” says Scott Winship, sector vice president, aerospace systems, Northrop Grumman Corp.​​​​​​​

Stratolaunch vehicle facts:

  • Announced 12/2011
  • Payload capacity: 550,000 pounds
  • Maximum take‐off weight:1,300,000 pounds
  • Operational range: 2,000 NM; mission radius: 1,000 NM
  • Mission time: 2‐8 hours
  • Top of tail height: 50 feet
  • Wing height: 23 feet off the ground
  • Wing span: 385 feet
  • Fuselage length: 238 feet
  • Fuselage separation: 95 feet
  • Propulsion: six PW4056 turbofan engines
  • Crew: two pilots, one flight engineer​​​​​​

​​​​​​​Stratolaunch vehicle record claims:

  • Largest all‐composite plane ever built and flown
  • World’s largest aircraft by wingspan
  • Greatest total thrust on an aircraft
  • Largest single piece of carbon fiber structure