World’s Largest Aircraft Starts Engine Tests

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For the first time, the private spaceflight company Stratolaunch tested all six of the engines on a colossal airplane with the largest wingspan of any aircraft in the world.

“In these initial tests, each of the six engines operated as expected,” Stratolaunch, which is led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, announced on Tuesday (Sept. 19). The 747 turbofan engines were loaded with fuel, started one at a time and then allowed to idle at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, the company said.

The double-bodied airplane is designed to serve as a mobile launch platform to carry rockets into low-Earth orbit.

According to the scheme, the Stratolaunch plane will make a runway-style takeoff, and when the aircraft reaches a cruising altitude of 36,000 feet (11,000 meters), the rockets it’s carrying will detach and then launch small satellites into low-Earth orbit.

Stretching 386 feet (118 m) across, the aircraft’s wingspan is longer than a professional football field. The vehicle weighs 500,000 lbs. (nearly 227,000 kilograms) when empty and unfueled, but it’s designed to carry another 550,000 lbs. (nearly 250,000 kg) between the two fuselages.

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