The Flying Roc

Stratolaunch’s big bird takes to the sky.

(Stratolaunch Systems Corp.)
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When Stratolaunch's behemoth, one-of-a-kind airplane made its first flight April 13, it became the airplane with the largest wingspan—385 feet—ever to fly. The Scaled Composites-built twin-body lifted off from Mojave Air & Space Port and, for two-and-a-half hours, performed basic maneuvers and checked systems (with a Cessna Citation chase plane in tow).

“The flight itself was smooth, which is exactly what you want the first flight to be,” said Evan Thomas, Scaled Composites test pilot. “And for the most part, the airplane flew as predicted, which is again exactly what we want. We saw a few little things that were off nominal, but really for a first flight, it was spot on.”

Stratolaunch calls the airplane Roc, after the giant eagle of Arabian mythology. The real Roc was built as an airborne space launch platform, designed to lift a rocket into the thin atmosphere at 35,000 feet, where it would be drop-launched. The big carrier airplane enables rocket builders to dispense with the first stages that make rockets so tall. Though initially planned to launch medium-size rockets, Stratolaunch will start with the relatively small Northrop Grumman Pegasus. Roc can carry up to three at a time mounted on the wing between fuselages.

The all-composite airplane is unique in form, but borrows its engines, hydraulic system, avionics, and landing gear from two retired 747-400 airliners. The pilot flies from the right-hand cockpit, while the left contains instrumentation.

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