A giant airplane of epic proportions took off for its maiden flight from the Mojave Air And Space Port in California. The Roc, as it has been dubbed by the company behind it, Stratolaunch, made it back to base safely, officially making it the largest airplane in the world.
“It was an emotional moment for me, personally, to watch this majestic bird take flight,” Stratolaunch’s CEO Jean Floyd said during a press call. “All of you have been very patient and very tolerant over the years waiting for us to get this big bird off the ground, and we finally did it.”
In Greek mythology, Roc is a giant mythical bird known for its ability to pick up and feed on baby elephants. Legend has it that the presence of this ominous bird would cast shade on the land below it and its flapping wings could create gusts of wind comparable to a cyclone.
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It took off at 6:46 AM this morning from Stratolaunch’s spaceport, and the mechanical Roc was a sight to rival its mythical namesake. As it took off, the huge airplane blew a copious amount of dust after its six Pratt & Whitney PW4056 Turbofan engines, which normally power Boeing 747-400’s, unleashed 340,000 pounds (154,000 kg) of thrust.
The aircraft is 385 ft (117m) wide, 238 ft (73m) long and 50 ft (15m) tall. It weighs about 500,000 pounds (250 tons) empty, but full of fuel and with a payload, it can weigh as much as 1,300,000 pounds (650 tons).
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Roc wasn’t designed to transport passengers or any kind of cargo. Instead, Stratolaunch’s vision is to haul rocket payloads up into the sky at an altitude of more than 30,000 ft from which point they can set off into orbit. Essentially, the Roc plays the role of a 1st stage booster that is fully reusable and flexibly deployable. Theoretically, this means dramatically cutting down costs.
The approach is quite different from SpaceX and Blue Origin which have chosen to design reusable rockets. However, given the demand for affordable deployment of payloads into Earth’s low orbit, there’s still enough room for growth and this kind of competition will only cut down prices even further.
At Roc’s event, Stratolaunch executives took a moment to honor the company’s founder, Paul Allen (who also co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates). Allen passed away last October from non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
“Even though he wasn’t there today, as the plane lifted gracefully from the runway, I did whisper a ‘thank you’ to Paul for allowing me to be a part of this remarkable achievement,” Floyd said.