Paul Allen’s monstrous Stratolaunch airplane finally rolled out of its hangar in Mojave, Calif., Wednesday, showing off its complete twin-hulled majesty for the first time.
It will now spend many months on ground tests before a first flight. And it’s not expected to be used to launch a rocket into space — a mission that some observers are skeptical will ever make business sense — any sooner than 2019.
Two tugs pulled the 250-ton giant from the hangar where it was built for Allen’s Stratolaunch Systems company by Scaled Composites, the specialty airplane-development firm founded by aviation pioneer Burt Rutan.
Over the past few weeks, mechanics removed the last of the three-story scaffolding that had surrounded the aircraft during construction, leaving the aircraft’s full weight to rest on its 28 wheels for the first time.
Jean Floyd, chief executive at Stratolaunch Systems, said in a statement that the empty airplane, powered by six used 747 engines, weighs approximately 500,000 pounds.
“That may sound heavy,“ Floyd acknowledged. “But remember that the Stratolaunch aircraft is the world’s largest plane by wingspan, measuring 385 feet. By comparison, a National Football League field spans only 360 feet.”
The plane — nicknamed the Roc, after a mythical Middle Eastern bird so big it could carry an elephant in its claws — will have a three-person crew: pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer.
They’ll be in the flight deck of the starboard fuselage, maneuvering the plane from far to the right of its centerline, while the port fuselage cockpit is empty and unpressurized.
Stratolaunch is intended to carry a rocket slung beneath the central part of the wing, between the two fuselages, and release it at 35,000 feet. The concept is that the rocket will then launch into space and deliver satellites into orbit.
For comparison, the empty weight of the world’s largest airliner, the double-decker Airbus A380 designed to carry around 550 passengers, is 610,000 pounds.
And the empty weight of Boeing’s largest jet, the 747-8, is a paltry 435,000 pounds.”