The world's largest aircraft took off from Mojave Air and Space Port on Thursday morning.
This big boy was built for aerospace company Stratolaunch Systems by Scaled Composites, which develops experimental aircraft. Named the "Roc" after the giant mythological bird that could carry elephants in its talons, it has six engines and a wingspan of 385 feet—slightly longer than a football field. It's so wide, the company had to construct a custom hanger for it to fit into.
In a video from the launch, the massive Roc lifts off toward the mountain range.
It flew for the first time in April 2019, shortly after Stratolaunch Systems founder Paul Allen's death. After its first flight and left without a founder, Stratolaunch stopped operations and sold the company. The Roc was originally meant to carry and launch spacecraft and their satellite payloads from mid-flight, giving rockets a boost on their way to orbit, but the company's new owners turned to developing a hypersonic rocket known as the Talon-A.
“Stratolaunch is developing a fleet of hypersonic testbeds that will provide routine access to the hypersonic flight environment,” Stratolaunch spokesperson Art Pettigrue told Geekwire that the Talon-A's development is meant to "accelerate the nation’s need for high-speed test capabilities to rapidly and efficiently advance hypersonic technologies and field hypersonic systems," and make “testing and operating in hypersonic environments routine and affordable even for the most leading-edge ambitions in the U.S. national security industry.”
Watching this beefy beast fly really brings home the fact that beyond equations, flight is still mostly a mystery even to aircraft engineers.