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/ Source: CNBC.com
By Michael Sheetz, CNBC
Aviation has a new number one in size, as a single aircraft of its kind completed its first test flight Saturday morning over the Mojave desert in California, people familiar with the flight told CNBC.
The test makes the immense Stratolaunch the largest plane in the world to fly, with a wingspan of 385 feet, wider than a football field is long. With two fuselages and six Boeing 747 engines. Stratolaunch is built to launch rockets from the air.
Stratolaunch is an "airdrop" system, which means that the aircraft will transport rockets to approximately 35,000 feet and then launch the rocket. One of the advantages of such a system, promoted by Richard Branson's Stratolaunch and Virgin Orbit, is that flying in and out of a traditional track offers more flexibility and will eventually allow a quick change between pitches.
The company has had several badociations, as well as internal plans, for the rockets that Stratolaunch will carry. SpaceX was one of the company's first partners, but Stratolaunch later switched to a contract with Orbital ATK, owned by Northrop Grumman, to fly the Pegeasus XL rocket. Stratolaunch's plan to develop its own rocket fleet was scrapped in January.
Stratolaunch Systems is owned by Vulcan, which manages the badets of the late Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen. The billionaire businessman founded Stratolaunch in 2011, in badociation with the manufacturer of special aircraft Scaled Composites. Allen died in October, following the complications of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Allen's approval is cited as one of the main reasons for the change in Stratolaunch's plans earlier this year. When the company announced in January that it was completing the development of its own rocket and vehicle engines, Stratolaunch would have laid off more than 50 of its 80 employees.