World's largest plane with wingspan the length of an American football field makes first flight over California

The world's largest aircraft took off over the Mojave Desert in California on Saturday, the first flight for the carbon-composite plane built by Stratolaunch Systems Corp, started by late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, as the company enters the lucrative private space market.

The world's largest aircraft: Roc

The white aeroplane called Roc, which has a wingspan the length of an American football field and is powered by six engines on a twin fuselage, took to the air shortly before 7 a.m. Pacific time (1400 GMT) and stayed aloft for more than two hours before landing safely back at the Mojave Air and Space Port as a crowd of hundreds of people cheered.

(Photograph:Reuters)

Designed to drop rockets

The plane is designed to drop rockets and other space vehicles weighing up to 500,000 pounds at an altitude of 35,000 feet and has been billed by the company as making satellite deployment as "easy as booking an airline flight."

(Photograph:Reuters)

Max speed: 189 miles per hour

Saturday's flight, which saw the plane reach a maximum speed of 189 miles per hour and altitudes of 17,000 feet, was meant to test its performance and handling qualities, according to Stratolaunch.

(Photograph:Reuters)

Company seeks to cash in on higher demand, says founder

Stratolaunch Systems Corp was founded by late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. He announced the venture in 2011. Allen died in October 2018 after suffering from non-Hodgkins' lymphoma, just months after the plane's development was unveiled.

The company seeks to cash in on higher demand in coming years for vessels that can put satellites in orbit, competing in the United States with other space entrepreneurs and industry stalwarts such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and United Launch Alliance - a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
 

(Photograph:Reuters)

Roc launch in 2020

Stratolaunch has said that it intends to launch its first rockets from the Roc in 2020 at the earliest.

(Photograph:Reuters)