Stratolaunch, a California-based company, has announced the completion of its seventh flight test of Roc, the world’s largest flying aircraft. The aircraft flew for 3 hours and 1 minute over the Mojave Desert and reached an altitude of 27,000 feet (8200 meters), a new altitude record for the aircraft.
This seventh flight focused on continuing Roc’s flight envelope expansion with the recent addition of the pylon on the aircraft’s center wing, which will launch smaller hypersonic aircraft from altitude and send them across the skies at speeds of over Mach 5. The test objectives also included continued validation of landing gear operations, including door functionality and alternate gear extension.
The pylon hardware features a winching system to lift the Talon-A – designed for swift and repeatable hypersonic flights – into place and weighs around 8,000 lb (3,629 kg) while occupying 14 ft (4.3 m) of the Roc’s center wingspan. It is comprised of a mini-wing and adapter that is constructed with aluminum and carbon fiber skins.
“Today’s flight is a success story of the Stratolaunch team’s ability to increase the operational tempo to the pace desired by our customers for performing frequent hypersonic flight tests,” said Dr. Zachary Krevor, Stratolaunch Chief Executive Officer and President. “Furthermore, the team reached a new altitude record of 27,000 feet, thereby demonstrating the aircraft performance needed for our Talon hypersonic vehicle to reach its wide design range of hypersonic conditions.”
The company originally designed Roc to carry air-launch-to-orbit rockets and satellites. The recent shift in strategy has seen the massive plane, which features a twin-fuselage design, six Boeing engines, and the longest wingspan ever flown, at 385 feet (117 m), repurposed as a carrier for hypersonic research vehicles.
Stratolaunch initially was going to do the first drop tests with Roc and Talon-A in early 2022 but now will achieve full operational capability by mid-to-late 2023. The Stratolaunch team recently integrated the TA-0 separation test vehicle with the carrier aircraft for the first time, signaling a priority push toward captive carry and separation testing happening later this year. The company is also making solid progress on the system integration of its first hypersonic flight test vehicle, TA-1, and on the fabrication of a third vehicle, TA-2, the first fully reusable hypersonic test vehicle.