The title of the world’s largest aircraft by wingspan has been claimed by the Stratolaunch aircraft, currently under development at the Mojave Air and Space Port, in Mojave, California, in the US.
Stratolaunch is the brainchild of multidisciplinary company Vulcan founder and chairperson Paul Allen. Vulcan’s space division, Vulcan Aerospace, is handling the development of the Stratolaunch – the concept of which is based on a reusable air-launch platform with the capability to launch satellites into low earth-orbit.
The Stratolaunch has a wingspan of 117.3 m, which breaks the previous record of the Hughes H-4 Hercules – built during the 1940s – which featured a wingspan of 97.5 m. However, the Hughes H-4 Hercules only made one flight over a short distance before being retired as a museum item.T
he Ukrainian-built Antonov An-225 Mriya is ranked third in terms of largest wingspan, and also still holds the record for the world’s largest overall-size aircraft, having a length of 84 m (the Stratolaunch is only 72.5 m long), and a wingspan of 88.4 m.
The An-225 also still holds the record for the heaviest airlift, with a maximum takeoff weight of 640 t. The Stratolaunch has a maximum takeoff weight of 589 t. The heaviest cargo ever lifted by the An-225 is 253.8 t. Vulcan Aerospace claims the Stratolaunch will be able to carry a payload of more than 226 t.
The secret to the Stratolaunch’s operational design is its extensive use of composite materials, which, compared with metal-structure aircraft, reduce weight and increase the thrust-to-weight ratio of the aircraft. The Stratolaunch has an unladen weight of about 226 t, compared with the An-225’s 285 t.
The Stratolaunch is unconventional in its design, using two interconnected fuselages, unlike almost all fixed-wing aircraft, which use only one. The Stratolaunch’s flight crew cockpit is on the right-hand-side fuselage, while the left-hand-side fuselage houses the flight data systems.
Powering the Stratolaunch are six Pratt & Whitney PW4000-series turbofan engines – the same family of jet engines used in Boeing’s 747-400 series.
Vulcan Aerospace completed the initial construction of the Stratolaunch on May 31, following which the company moved the aircraft out of its hangar for the first time.
plans to begin ground and flights tests, which include taxiing, engine runs and fuelling tests.