Stratolaunch, the space launch company founded in part by late billionaire and Microsoft Co-founder Paul Allen, has sent its gigantic Roc aircraft into the skies for the very first time. The flight occurred this morning at 6:46AM from Stratolaunch's home at Mojave Air And Space Port in California. It was chased by a Cessna Citation jet during the inaugural flight.
Roc now takes the throne as the world's largest aircraft with a 385-foot wingspan, a gross takeoff weight of 1,300,000 pounds, and powered by six Pratt & Whitney PW4056 Turbofan engines normally found on the 747-400. Combined, these engines put out a whopping 340,500 pounds of thrust. The Roc—it is nicknamed after the huge bird from Greek mythology—will haul rocket payloads up into the sky before sending them on their way into space. The idea is the craft acts as a completely reusable and flexibly deployable first stage, which could dramatically cut down the cost of putting payloads into space and do so in a highly flexible manner not offered by traditional launch-pad based systems.
We have kept a close eye on the program, which has seen its scope somewhat curtailed since the death of its primary financial backer and visionary Paul Allen. A whole family of space-launch vehicles was intended to be carrier by Roc, now that has been paired down to just one, at least for the time being. As we have explained in the past, the Pentagon is likely to be Stratolaunch's most interested and lucrative customer.
Roc is still in the air at the time of publishing. We will update this post with more information as it comes available about this exciting landmark in aviation history.
UPDATE: 9:25am PDT—
Roc has safely landed back at Mojave Air And Space Port. Congratulations to Stratolaunch and all of their partners on a successful and history making first flight!
Update: 11:46am PDT—
We have some high-resolution images of the flight to share:
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com