Aerospace & Defence

Desert flight of largest aircraft ever flown breaks records

19th January 2023
Harry Fowle

The Stratolaunch Roc has completed its record-breaking six-hour long flight over the Californian Mojave Desert.

With an incredible wingspan of 117 metres, the Stratolaunch Roc dwarfs conventional commercial and cargo planes. Powered by a whopping six Boeing 747 engines, the aircraft can reach speeds of up to 530mph making it swift for its size. The Roc’s primary function is to be able to successfully carry and deliver objects to the edge of space with an overall cargo capacity of up to 250t. The aircraft has a three-person crew featuring a Pilot, Co-pilot, and Flight Engineer all stationed within the right fuselage of the H-shaped craft. Despite the left-hand fuselage featuring what appears to be a cockpit, it is unpressurised and empty.

By developing such a behemoth, Stratolaunch has said it aims to be able to offer “convenient, affordable, and routine” access to space. This is precisely what the company tested on 13th January, flying itself along with the Talon-A prototype hypersonic vehicle to the edge of space on a six-hour flight above and around the Mojave Desert. Following the success of the flight, which included separation manoeuvre tests and environment evaluations, Stratolaunch CEO Zachary Krevor commented: “Our amazing team is continuing to make the progress on our test timeline, and it is through their hard work that we grow closer than ever to safe separation and our first hypersonic flight tests.”

The vehicle being carried, the Talon-A, is another endeavour of Stratolaunch’s, being a reusable aircraft with the ability to travel above five times the speed of sound. The final goal is that the company will be able to debut commercial flights alongside regular industrial ones. The Roc will test its capabilities within the first half of 2023 in which a drop test of the Talon-A prototype above the Pacific Ocean will take place. If successful, the Roc could even see its first manned commercial separation come December 2023. “We are excited for what’s ahead this year as we bring our hypersonic flight test service online for our customers and the nation,” says Krevor.

With an overall weight capacity limit rivalling that of what a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket can offer, the hope is that the aircraft can rival the Virgin Galactic in delivering objects, and perhaps even people, to the very edge of space adding healthy competition to drive humanity forward.

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