Giant aircraft succeeds in its inaugural flight

A giant aircraft with the world’s longest wingspan has landed after its first ever flight

Stratolaunch hopes to use the twin-fuselage, six engine, catamaran-style aircraft to launch satellite-bearing rockets into space by 2022. Mr Allen died in October 2018.

The world's largest aeroplane by wingspan has taken to the air over the Mojave desert in California.

This handout photograph obtained courtesy of Stratolaunch shows the Stratolaunch plane flying over the California desert, April 13, 2019, the first test flight of the USA company's very big aircraft whose wingspan is nearly half that of an Airbus A380. "We are well on our way towards providing new launch opportunities for small satellites that have waited too long for their ride to space", Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said Wednesday in a statement.

The 117-meter wide plane took off from a runway in California's Mohave Desert and flew for 2.5 hours at altitudes of up to 5,000 meters at speeds of up to 304 km/h. The world's biggest plane's wingspan measures longer than a football field.

The plane flew Saturday for about two and a half hours, Stratolaunch said.

Stratolaunch, according to the company, is created to be a "mobile launch platform that will enable airline-style access to space that is convenient, affordable and routine".

"Today's flight furthers our mission to provide a flexible alternative to ground launched systems", he added.

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Following its first flight, CEO Jean Floyd said it was unbelievable to "watch this majestic bird take flight" and the aircraft had made a "spectacular" landing.

"We all know Paul would have been proud to witness today's historic achievement", said Jody Allen, Chair of Vulcan Inc. and Trustee of the Paul G. Allen Trust.

The airplane's six Pratt & Whitney engines and 28-wheel landing gear were originally designed for Boeing 747s, but aerospace company Scaled Composites worked alongside Stratolaunch and repurposed three 747s to put it together.

"The aircraft is a remarkable engineering achievement and we congratulate everyone involved".

Importantly, Saturday's flight was just a test - no rockets were launched from the giant plane as it soared at 17,000 feet.

The widest plane ever built prior to the Stratolaunch was the mid-20th-century H-4 Hercules - aka "Spruce Goose" - built by famous U.S. aviator Howard Hughes.

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