Saturday morning Exactly 45 minutes after the sun rose over the Mojave Desert, the largest aircraft ever built ̵
"They have all been very patient and tolerant over the years. We finally made it to get that big bird off the ground," Stratolaunch CEO Jean Floyd told reporters on a press release. The company reported speeds of 189 mph and 17,000 foot heights during its 150-minute test flight before landing safely on the Mojave Air and Space Port.
"The systems on the plane ran like clockwork," test pilot Evan Thomas told reporters
But the events of the day were bittersweet. The co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen, a longtime space enthusiast who founded and funded the Stratolaunch project, died last October at the age of 65 from complications related to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. "Although he was not there today, I whispered as the plane gracefully lifted off the runway, a thank you to Paul for allowing me to participate in this remarkable achievement," said Floyd.
One day soon, Stratolaunch hopes to be able to carry 250 tons of rocket ships loaded with satellites up to a height of 35,000 feet – into the stratosphere. At cruising altitude, the engines fired a rocket and carried them and their satellite charge the rest of the way into space. Only a few facilities, such as the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, can handle missile launches, which means tight scheduling and long waiting times. Aircraft can stand out from many other runways that Stratolaunch hopes will give their aircraft a competitive advantage in launching satellites into orbit.
The aircraft's six Pratt & Whitney engines and 28-wheel landing gear were originally intended for the Boeing 747. In fact, Scaled Composites, which worked with Stratolaunch to build the aircraft, saved money by re-using three 747s to assemble it. The plane fills almost every corner of its 100,000-square-foot hangar at the Mojave Air and Space Port. His maximum takeoff weight is 1.3 million pounds. (It's also worth noting that although the aircraft has the widest span, other aircraft are larger in length.)
Stratolaunch's ambitions have shifted in the past few years. Originally intended to launch modified SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets into space, the two companies soon parted ways. By 2016, she had found a new partner, the Orbital ATK of Northrop Grumman, which builds the Pegasus XL rocket. Previously, Stratolaunch hoped to build its own rocket ship and rocket engines, but broke off this project and fired some workers earlier this year.
Although representatives of Allen's holding company have said that the billionaire will provide funds for stratolaunch before his death, the future of the company is not very clear. A company spokesman was unable to tell immediately when Stratolaunch wanted to make more flights, and the plane had to be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration before it could transport rockets and satellites into space.
The Stratolaunch project is also under pressure. Richard Branson's Virgin Orbit plans to conduct its own test of a modified Boeing 747 later this year – an aircraft also built to transport satellite rockets into orbit.
And behind all the ambitious engineers and aviation experts ghosts is also the ghost of Spruce Goose . The plane, a miracle when it was completed in 1947 as a pet project by eccentric business magnate Howard Hughes, flew back just one kilometer before retiring to a museum in Oregon – where Allen was supposedly on Saturday morning.
the Stratolaunch team was in a great mood. "We dedicate this day to the man who has inspired us all to look for ways to strengthen the world's problem solvers, Paul Allen," Floyd said. "No doubt he would have been exceptionally proud if his planes were flying."
This story originally appeared on wired.com.