Chapman Freeborn blog

Chapman Freeborn

Anticipation grows for the world’s largest fixed-wing aircraft

Last month saw the first real-life glimpses of the half-finished Stratolaunch carrier aircraft, which when complete will take the crown of the largest airplane in the world. Brainchild of Microsoft founder Paul Allen and SpaceShipOne co-creator Burt Rutan, the monstrous plane will have a wingspan of 385-feet (117-metres) and is designed to launch orbital rockets into space.

Stratolaunch Systems claim the aircraft will revolutionize the future of space travel, drastically minimizing the costs and risks of ground launched space rockets and further expanding the opportunities for accessible civilian space travel and commercial operations.

Weighing in at 540,000kg, the launcher will have a range of 2,200km and requires the use of a 3,700m (2.3 mile) long runway. The aircraft will be powered by 6 jet engines that have been sourced from two used Boeing 747-400’s.

One of the donor 747-400’s onsite at Stratolaunch System’s giant facility in Mojave, California

The launcher is expected to make its maiden flight in 2016, and in doing so will become the largest airplane, by wingspan, to ever fly – it’s no surprise when you consider the aircraft’s wingspan is 20-foot longer that an Apollo-era Saturn V rocket. A successful flight next year will oust the current record holder – the ill-fated Hughes H-4 ’Spruce Goose’ – as well as knocking the gigantic Antonov An-225 Mriya of the top spot as the largest in-service aircraft in the world.

To put its scale into perspective, below is a comparison of the Stratolaunch carrier aircraft to other notably large aircraft:

It’s clear that 2016 will an exciting year for aviation, as innovators like Stratolaunch Systems push the boundaries of what has previously been possible and increasingly blur the lines between air and space travel.

Header image courtesy of Stratolaunch Systems
Boeing 747 image courtesy of Steve Jurvetson
Comparison Diagram courtesy of Clem Tillier