Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Gigantic Stratolaunch aircraft takes to the skies for the second time

Stratolaunch, the aerospace firm founded by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, conducted the second test flight of its giant carrier aircraft named ‘Roc.’ The carrier plane successfully performed a series of in-flight maneuvers over the Southern California desert two years after its maiden flight, following a change in ownership and purpose.

The aircraft reached a maximum altitude of 2.6 miles (about 4.2 km) over the Mojave Desert in California. The flight with six active engines lasted 3 hours and 14 minutes, after which Roc landed on the runway at the Mojave Air and Space Port. The flight lasted longer than the first flight in 2019, but this time the maximum altitude reached was slightly lower.

The test flight was planned to test how the Roc aircraft handles cabin pressurization, safety features, and new equipment added since its last test flight.

The twin-fuselage Roc aircraft has a wingspan of 117 meters (385 ft), making it the world’s largest aircraft by wingspan. It is designed to carry Stratolaunch’s reusable and autonomous Talon-A hypersonic aircraft. Talon-A is a rocket-powered jet that is intended to be used as a hypersonic testbed for the US Department of Defense. The aircraft is 8.5 m (28 ft) in length, with a wingspan of 3.4 m (11.3 ft), and is capable of flying at speeds of Mach 5-Mach 7 (6,125-8,575 km/h).

After being dropped from a carrier aircraft, Talon A must activate its liquid-fueled rocket engine in order to climb higher in the Earth’s atmosphere and reach hypersonic speed. The vehicle glides back for an autonomous landing on a conventional runway.

So far, the Roc is undergoing test flights without the Talon-A. The company‘s chief technical officer, Daniel Millman, said the Roc will be tested at higher speeds and higher altitudes over the next year until it proves itself capable of hitting the right flight conditions required to drop Talon-A.