Stratolaunch – the largest plane in the world built by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and his company Vulcan Aerospace – is set to take its first official flight in the next few months.
The plane has a wingspan of 385 feet – longer than the average size of a football pitch.
The aircraft is so big that it requires two cockpits and six jet engines just to get it into the air.
The six engines are used to power the 580-tonne machine. Once airborne, it has been reported that the plane will be used to transport rockets carrying satellites and astronauts up into the Earth atmosphere.
At the 34th Space Symposium in Colorado, Stratolaunch revealed that it hopes to conduct the plane’s first official flight this summer.
Having gone through two taxi tests already, the Stratolaunch has a little way to go before it will make its first full flight.
So far the aircraft has achieved top speeds of 28 mph (41km/h) and 46 mph (71km/h).
However, to make it into the sky, the Stratolaunch has to reach a top speed of 80 mph (128km/h) and later 138 mph (122km/h) in its next two taxi flights.
Back at the beginning of the year, reports of the plane’s first mission ‘Black Ice’ were released.
It is believed that the plane might be used to transport the Black Ice rocket into space.
The Stratolaunch is longer than the average size of a football pitch
I think you’re seeing right now, other than [space station] resupply missions, most spaceflights are about launching satellites
In a conversation with the Washington Post, Paul Allen said: “I would love to see us have a full reusable system and have weekly, if not more often, airport-style, repeatable operations going.”
Speaking about the possibility of manned missions, Allen revealed: ‘If you caught the bug back in the Mercury era, of course it’s in the back of your mind.
“But I think you’re seeing right now, other than [space station] resupply missions, most spaceflights are about launching satellites. That’s the reality. As well as sending cargo to space, the plane could be used to launch a secretive Shuttle-sized rocket codenamed ‘Black Ice’, according to its creator.
“And they are extremely important for everything from television to data all over the world. You can get data in the Kalahari Desert because there’s a satellite up there.”
The aircraft needs two cockpits and six jet engines to get it off the ground
To make it into the sky, the Stratolaunch has to reach a top speed of 138 mph
If the monster aircraft does make it into the sky, the plane will need a three-man crew.
A pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer will sit in the right-hand fuselage steering the plane.
The left-hand fuselage, although looking like a cockpit, is, in fact, empty and unpressurised.
Without any extra cargo, the plane approximately weighs 500,000 pounds.
According to The Verge, one up and flying, the Stratolaunch will be able to carry a maximum weight of 1.3 million pounds.