American aerospace company Stratolaunch just made a huge advance towards its goal of air-launching hypersonic vehicles. It successfully completed the second flight test of its carrier vehicle, which has potential for air-launching hypersonic vehicles for the military.
The dual-fuselage aircraft is actually the world’s largest aircraft by wingspan, measuring an impressive 385 feet from end to end. It flew for a total of three hours and 14 minute during the test, which is 44 minutes longer than it flew during its first flight. It didn’t fly as high as it did that time, however, soaring at just 14,000 feet rather than 17,000.
Touchdown!! Successful flight tests to round out the day. What a beautiful sight. pic.twitter.com/gdssjvoN8x
— Stratolaunch (@Stratolaunch) April 29, 2021
The fact that this flight went off without a hitch means that all the improvements Stratolaunch made to the aircraft over the past year since its initial test flight worked, thus pushing it one step closer to production. The company’s Chief Technology Officer, Dr. Daniel R. Millman, stated “Stratolaunch is advancing our nation’s ability to be a worldwide leader in the hypersonic market. Our flight today gets us another step closer to our promise of delivering the world’s first premier hypersonic flight test service.”
Stratolaunch’s end goal here is to air-launch the reusable Talon-A hypersonic vehicle from this carrier airplane. It is currently working on assembling that vehicle, which is slated to start testing in 2023. The Talon-A is a Mach 6-class hypersonic vehicle that can provide 60 seconds of hypersonic flight, then glide back to the launch runway for an autonomous landing.
As you can imagine, such aircraft could have military applications, because hypersonic vehicles make for solid weapon-delivery systems as they’re highly maneuverable. Millman is looking to assist the Department of Defense with flight testing, and said “Our testbed has the ability to carry payloads. It has the ability to test materials. It has the ability to fly a variety of profiles that are of interest to folks across the spectrum both offensively and defensively in terms of hypersonics.”