The world’s largest flying aircraft tested its hypersonic capabilities

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The Stratolaunch project is back on track after coming precariously close to bankruptcy.

The Pentagon is one step closer to new hypersonic test flights. Stratolaunch successfully completed the fifth flight test of Roc, the world’s largest flying aircraft, a press statement reveals. The aircraft flew for a total of 4 hours and 58 minutes over the Mojave Desert, reaching an altitude of 22,500 feet (6858 m).

The latest flight brings Stratolaunch one step closer to fulfilling its agreement with the Pentagon for hypersonic test flight launches.

The world’s largest flying aircraft

The Roc, with its six Boeing 747 engines and 385 feet (117 meters) wingspan, dwarves the massive Antonov An-225 cargo plane, with its 290 feet (88 meters) wingspan — which was sadly recently wrecked during the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Stratolaunch added a new pylon to the aircraft’s center wing for the latest test flight. The new pylon will be a crucial component for operational launches, as it will enable the Roc to carry and release Talon-A hypersonic vehicles.

Talon-A vehicles are autonomous, reusable hypersonic test aircraft that carry customizable payloads at speeds of up to Mach 5. Stratolaunch has just started manufacturing TA-2, the first fully reusable hypersonic test vehicle.

The pylon technology added to the Roc for this launch comprises a mini-wing and adapter built out of aluminum and carbon fiber skins. The pylon weighs roughly 8,000 pounds 3.62 tonnes) and it measures 14 feet (5,25 meters) in length. It features a state-of-the-art winch system that loads Talon test vehicles onto the platform from the ground, significantly reducing the need for ground support and launch preparation time.

In December last year, the Pentagon announced it had struck a deal with Stratolaunch to test new hypersonic aircraft systems. That deal formed a large part of Stratolaunch’s change in fortune since it was reportedly dangerously close to bankruptcy in 2019 before a change in ownership.

The new owners changed the focus from satellite launches to hypersonic flight tests and were able to take the Roc back to the skies again in April last year, following a two-year grounding.

Stratolaunch reported that its latest test flight allowed it to validate the aircraft’s general performance and handling characteristics with the new pylon hardware and continue to assess landing gear operations. Next, the team hopes to conduct its first Talon-A flight tests later this year. If all goes to plan, Stratolaunch will start hypersonic flight testing for the Pentagon and other customers in 2023.

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