World's largest plane makes first test flight

The jet's landing gear has 28 wheels

Speaking to the media soon after the touchdown, Evan said, the successful flight was the result of the blood, sweat and tears of all the men and women of Stratolaunch who worked tirelessly.

A giant aircraft with a wingspan stretching beyond the length of two Olympic swimming pools has undertaken its maiden flight in the US.

The company said the jet hit altitudes of up to 17,000 feet above the Mojave Desert while performance and handling qualities were evaluated.

However, neither Krevor nor Jean Floyd, the chief executive of Stratolaunch, said anything about the test flight program, including when the plane will fly again and how long the overall test program will last.

Taking to the skies over the Mojave Desert in California on Saturday, it was the first flight for the carbon-composite plane built by Stratolaunch Systems, started by late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, as the company enters the lucrative private space market. We got running down the runway, did our rotation and the airplane very nicely and smoothly rotated. "It definitely was ready to fly and wanted to fly", he said.

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Mr Thomas said there were "a few little things that were off-nominal but really for a first flight it was spot on".

In the next three years, after completing the test phase, Stratolaunch expects to launch satellite-bearing rockets into space. Rockets with orbital payloads will be mounted to the center wing of the aircraft, which will then be flown to an altitude of around 35,000 feet. The plane is the brainchild of Paul G. Allen's Stratolaunch Systems Corporation, and sports an impressive 385-foot wingspan.

The jet is powered by the same type of engines used by Boeing 747s and is created to take off at a maximum weight 589,676 kilograms. Its twin fuselages - sort of the airplane equivalent of a catamaran - are 238 feet (72.5 meters) long.

The previous world wingspan record holder was Howard Hughes' World War II-era eight-engine H-4 Hercules flying boat - nicknamed the Spruce Goose. The odd aircraft, built by the legendary aeronautical engineering company Scaled Composites in the Mojave Desert, has two fuselages and is powered by six Boeing 747 engines. Surviving in an aviation museum, it has an approximately 320ft (97.5m) wingspan but is just under 219ft long.

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