The world’s largest aircraft to launch hypersonic aircraft

Stratolaunch, owner of the world’s largest aircraft, has announced a new research contract with the U.S. military to help develop hypersonic weapons.

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President and Chief Operating Officer Zachary Krevor Recount FLYING On Thursday, the six-engine jet, dubbed “Roc,” could begin its next round of test flights as early as January with the launch of autonomous hypersonic test planes later in 2022. The hypersonic planes are designed to fly at minus five times the ringing speed.

Roc made headlines in 2019 when it successfully completed its maiden flight, becoming the world’s largest aircraft in terms of wingspan – wing tip to wing tip to wing height is 385 feet. It’s longer than an American football field; larger than the wingspan of a Boeing 747-8 or Howard Hughes’ famous H-4 Hercules, aka the Spruce goose.

“Threat replication”

The new military contract calls for Stratolaunch to provide “threat replication” for Pentagon Missile Defense Agency research to help scientists understand how to engage and intercept hypersonic threats.

Recently, US military leaders have expressed concern about the ability of US forces to defend against hypersonic weapons, which fly so fast that they could strike targets in the United States with little or no warning. The Pentagon has stepped up its research into hypersonic weapons.

The world’s largest aircraft to launch hypersonic aircraft

Krevor said FLYING that Roc and Talon-A, Stratolaunch’s new autonomous test bed aircraft under development, will help hypersonic weapons engineers develop a set of solutions to “counter this growing threat from competitors such as China.”

With contracts numbered “well in the double digits — both government and trade agreements — there is clearly a strong market for our services,” Krevor said.

Roc is a twin-fuselage aircraft with a center wing designed to support up to 500,000 pounds. Its engines, landing gear, and parts of the cockpit were salvaged from 747s.

After being launched from Roc at flight levels similar to those of commercial airliners, Talon-A will fly at altitudes above 50,000 feet, where hypersonic test conditions are ideal.

Two prototypes of Talon-As are being built at Stratolaunch’s facility in Mojave, California.

Because it will be autonomous, Talon will not be piloted from Roc or from the ground. It is designed to have the ability to adjust its flight profile according to its mission.

The first hypersonic flight tests of the Talon-A are scheduled to begin next year.

Nicknamed Roc, after the mythical bird, the aircraft is powered by six Pratt & Whitney PW4056 engines. Credit: Stratolaunch

Microsoft Roots

Founded in 2011, Stratolaunch was the brainchild of late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

After her untimely death in 2018, Stratolaunch’s parent company, Vulcan, sold her to Cerberus Capital Management the following year.

Roc will continue to undergo testing while engineers develop Talon-A. In fact, the huge jet is being prepared for a new round of test flights, Krevor said.

“Like everyone else these days, we certainly continue to go through the trials and tribulations of the COVID pandemic, and therefore plan to fly again soon after the New Year.”

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