World's Biggest Airplane Takes To The Skies For A Second Time After A Two Year Hiatus (Updated)

After enduring major uncertainty about its future after the death of Paul Allen, Stratolaunch's primary owner, the firm is back to flight testing.

The Stratolaunch Roc, the world's largest airplane, after taking off for its second ever test flight in April 2021.
Stratolaunch capture

Just over two years after Stratolaunch's Roc air-launch mothership aircraft, the world's largest aircraft, flew for the first time, it has taken to the air again from the Mojave Air And Space Port in California. The future of the plane after its first flight, and that of Stratolaunch as a whole, had been extremely uncertain due to the death of the company's founder, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen

There had been fears that it could end up like the Hughes H-4 "Spruce Goose" flying boat, another wealthy industrialist's dream, and never get airborne again. In 2019, however, new owners took over the firm and announced plans to shift the Roc's primary focus from being a platform to launch payloads into space to one that would support growing demands for hypersonic flight testing.

Stratolaunch

Stratolaunch's Roc, the world's largest airplane.

The Roc, which was designed and built for Stratolaunch by Scaled Composites, a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman, lifted off from Mojave earlier today. The company had teased that a second flight was coming earlier in the month and had released pictures and video of the plane undergoing high-speed taxi testing on the ground nearly two weeks ago. 

Bad weather had forced the company scrub plans to carry out this test flight on April 19.

Stratolaunch has not yet provided any specific details about its goals for this second flight, which, at the time of writing, appears to be still ongoing. A Cessna Citation business jet is flying with Roc as a chase plane.

Regardless, after so much uncertainty, it's exciting to see this massive and unique plane take to the skies again. As originally designed, the Roc was primarily intended to serve as an airborne launch platform for both expendable space launch rockets and reusable spacecraft, as you can read about more here. This general concept, commonly referred to as two-stage-to-orbit, and which other companies are also pursuing, offers certain advantages, especially in the flexibility of launch timing and location, compared to using traditional space launch rockets fired from static launch sites.

As already noted, under its new ownership, Stratolaunch says its main focus is now on offering hypersonic flight test services. This makes good sense given the explosion of work on hypersonic craft, including designs with potential commercial applications, as well as weapons in the United States and elsewhere around the world in recent years. Roc's ability to carry unusually shaped and outsized payloads makes it very well suited to this role. Stratolaunch, in cooperation with Calspan, is currently in the process of developing its own reusable Talon-A hypersonic test vehicle, as well.

This new test flight of the Roc underscores that Stratolaunch remains committed to these plans to utilize the world's largest plane to help support future advanced aerospace development projects.

We will update this story as more information becomes available.

UPDATE, 3:10 PM EST:

Stratolaunch says that the test flight has come to an end and that "all results are as expected," but has not yet offered any specific details about the sortie and its objectives.

Contact the author: joe@thedrive.com