What Stratolaunch Systems Corp. (SSC) claims is the “world’s largest aircraft” has completed its first low-speed taxi test. Scaled Composites, a Northrop Grumman subsidiary, is constructing and testing the Stratolaunch aircraft within SSC facilities at the Mojave Air & Space Port in California. (Video courtesy of Stratolaunch Systems Corp.)
“It was a lot less intimidating once we had it out there, in terms of how much runway we take up. From a visual standpoint, we had a lot more room than I was anticipating,” Joe Sweat, project pilot, said about operating the extremely large aircraft. “Getting the airplane moving under its own power was really interesting –just seeing and feeling how the nose wheel steering reacts and how the brakes respond to the inputs.”
According to SSC, the primary purpose the test was to demonstrate the aircraft’s ability to steer and stop. A ground team monitored a number of systems, including steering, braking, anti-skid and telemetry. The company said all objectives of this test were achieved and the aircraft was able to travel down the runway at 25 kts. Stratolaunch runs on six Pratt & Whitney turbofan engines.
Scaled Composites said it has been working with SSC for the past five years designing, building, and testing the aircraft. The first engine runs occurred in September. Since the, SSC said the team performed a series of engine tests from the newly established Stratolaunch Mission Control Center (MCC), located at the Mojave Air & Space Port. Eventually, the center will act as the hub for the aircraft and launch operations.
Once low-speed taxi tests have been completed, SSC said it will begin the next phase of taxi testing. This includes increased speeds.
Ultimately, SSC founder Paul G. Allen aimed to develop an air-launch platform to make access to space more convenient, reliable, and routine. The company said it believes “that normalizing access to low Earth orbit has the potential to redefine our lives by creating more opportunities for commercial, philanthropic and governmental organizations to collect rich and actionable data and drive advancements in science, research and technology from space.”