The largest plane in the world took flight for the first time on Saturday morning. Built by the Stratolaunch rocket launch company, the 500,000 pound aircraft with a wingspan of 385 feet started shortly after 10AM ET from Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, California. It is a first critical test flight for the plane, designed to launch rockets into orbit from the air.
The inaugural flight is expected to last a few hours. The double-fuselage Stratolaunch is designed to fly at an altitude of 35,000 feet, where it can launch rockets that ignite its engines and orbit around the planet. There is no rocket on this particular flight. But the company has already signed at least one customer, Northrop Grumman, who plans to use Stratolaunch to ship its Pegasus XL rocket to space.
Today's flight comes three months after Stratolaunch fired "more than 50" employees and canceled efforts to develop its own rockets. Originally, the company had planned to build a complete series of rockets, including a space plane. According to reports, the change in plans was due to the death of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who started Stratolaunch in 2011.
The road to today's launch involved a series of incremental tests in recent years, including the initial launch and an engine test in 2017, and a series of taxis on the Mojave track at various speeds.