Stratolaunch, builder of the world's largest airplane, flew a prototype of its planned air-launched Talon hypersonic vehicle for the first time on Friday (Oct. 28).
The massive Roc carrier plane, which has a wingspan longer than a football field, carried the test vehicle Talon-A (TA-0) into the sky above California's Mojave Desert on a flight that proved Stratolaunch's huge plane can indeed carry the experimental hypersonic vehicles it's designed to launch from mid-air.
"This is the first integrated flight test of our Talon launch system," Brandon Wood, Stratolaunch vice president of programs and operations, told reporters in a Friday teleconference. "We'll progress from here to more complicated, and certainly more productive flights, for our hypersonic testbed."
Stratolaunch's Roc took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port carrying the 28-foot-long (8.5 meters) Talon prototype vehicle attached to a pylon at the center of the giant plane's 385-foot-wide (117 m) wings. The flight lasted just over five hours and reached a maximum altitude of 23,000 feet (7,000 m), the company said, adding that the test met all its objectives.
"I was ecstatic seeing those two vehicles combined as they lifted off the runway and into the sky," Stratolaunch CEO and President Zachary Krevor told reporters. "Seeing our flight products operating together represents a significant step towards regular and reusable hypersonic flight."
Stratolaunch was founded in 2011 by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen to launch rockets into space from the air. Allen died in 2018, just six months before Roc's first test flight in April 2019. Later that year, Stratolaunch was bought by Cerberus Capital Management and transitioned into an air-launch platform for hypersonic research.
The company is developing a series of Talon vehicles as testbeds for hypersonic flights that can reach speeds of up to Mach 6, or six times the speed of sound. Friday's flight with the TA-0 marked Stratolaunch's eight flight of its carrier plane, but the first with a vehicle.
If December's drop test is successful, Stratolaunch aims to test its first hypersonic vehicle, the Talon-A TA-1, in 2023. It is also building a two follow-on hypersonic craft, TA-2 and TA-3, which are designed to be fully reusable.
"The company anticipates delivering hypersonic flight services to government and commercial customers in 2023," Stratolaunch representatives wrote in a statement.