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, bringing to life a dream held by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen, the AP reports. Stratolaunch Systems Corp. chief executive Jean Floyd said Saturday 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," Floyd told a teleconference briefing. The behemoth, twin-fuselage Stratolaunch jet lifted off from Mojave Air and Space Port shortly before 7am Saturday and climbed into the desert sky 70 miles north of Los Angeles.
The jet flew 2 ½ hours, achieving a maximum speed of 189 mph and altitudes up to 17,000 feet, the company said. 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—a longer wingspan than any other aircraft. At an altitude of 35,000 feet, the rockets would be released, ignite their engines and soar into space. The plane's twin fuselages are 238 feet long. The previous wingspan leader was Howard Hughes' World War II-era eight-engine H-4 Hercules flying boat—nicknamed the Spruce Goose—which has an approximately 320-foot wingspan. While Stratolaunch calls its aircraft the world's largest, other airplanes exceed it in length from nose to tail. Click for the full story.
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