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The world's biggest airplane, designed to launch rockets, just took its first flight

By Jeff Spry

Up, up in the sky!  It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a rocket-launching platform that carries with it not only bright hopes for future space exploration but also the title of World's Largest Aircraft.

On a brilliant Saturday morning, April 13, Stratolaunch's ginormous 500,000 pound, twin-fuselage airplane spread its 385-foot wings and entered the wild blue yonder during its flawless inaugural flight.

At 6:58 AM PT, this elegant bird designed to carry aloft and launch rockets into orbit lifted off from Mohave Air and Space Port in Mohave, California. Roaring off the runway with corporate executives and aviation enthusiasts cheering, the Stratolaunch eventually attained an altitude of 17,000 feet at a speed of 189 mph. The significant test flight from the ambitious rocket-launching firm was smooth as silk and lasted 150 minutes before gently touching down safely.

“The flight itself was smooth, which is exactly what you want a first flight to be," test pilot Evan Thomas said in a statement. “It flew very much like we had simulated and like we predicted.”

Hoping to manufacture a high-altitude launch pad providing convenient, affordable, airline-style access to space, Stratolaunch Systems Corporation was created in 2011 by Microsoft's billionaire co-founder Paul Allen, who passed away last year. Original plans also called for the company to engineer a batch of next-generation rockets and a spaceplane but those plans were scaled back following Allen's death.

Saturday's successful test flight comes after two years of incremental rollouts starting in 2017, with the colossal machine undergoing systems shakedowns, engine tests, and several taxis down the wide runway at Mohave.

While it has abandoned notions of also building its own rockets which would ignite at altitude and blast themselves into Earth orbit, Stratolaunch has actually already signed up the aerospace titan Northrop Grumman, who will employ Stratolaunch to send its new Pegasus XL rocket into outer space.

“It was an emotional moment for me, personally, to watch this majestic bird take flight,” exclaimed Stratolaunch CEO Jean Floyd after the mission.

What do you think of Stratolaunch's beautiful white bird and its first step toward an exciting future?

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