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Stratolaunch

Stratolaunch, a giant six-engine aircraft with the world’s longest wingspan, makes its historic first flight Saturday from the Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, Calif. Founded by the late billionaire Paul G. Allen, Stratolaunch is vying to be a contender in the market for air-launching small satellites.

LOS ANGELES — A giant six-engine aircraft with the world's longest wingspan completed what company officials called a superb initial flight over California's Mojave Desert, bringing to life a dream held by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen.

Stratolaunch Systems Corp. chief executive Jean Floyd said Saturday the aircraft made a "spectacular" landing that was on the mark. Stratolaunch, which was founded by Allen, is vying to be a contender in the market for air-launching small satellites. He died in October.

"It was an emotional moment for me, to personally watch this majestic bird take flight, to see Paul Allen's dream come to life in front of my very eyes," Floyd told a teleconference briefing.

Floyd said that as the plane lifted off, "I did whisper a 'thank you' to Paul for allowing me to be part of this remarkable achievement."

The behemoth, twin-fuselage Stratolaunch jet lifted off from Mojave Air and Space Port shortly before 7 a.m. Saturday and climbed into the desert sky 70 miles north of Los Angeles. The jet flew 2½ hours, achieving a maximum speed of 189 mph and altitudes up to 17,000 feet, the company said.

The aircraft is designed to carry as many as three satellite-laden rockets at a time under the center of its enormous wing, which stretches 385 feet — a longer wingspan than any other aircraft.

At an altitude of 35,000 feet, the rockets would be released, ignite their engines and soar into space.

The advantages of such air-launch systems include being able to use numerous airports and avoid the limitations of fixed launch sites which can be impacted by weather, air traffic and ship traffic on ocean ranges.

Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, founded Stratolaunch Systems Corp. in 2011 after emerging in aerospace by funding the development of the experimental air-launched SpaceShipOne, which in 2004 became the first privately built manned rocket to reach space.

While Stratolaunch calls its aircraft the world's largest, other airplanes exceed it in length from nose to tail. They include the six-engine Antonov AN 225 cargo plane, which is 275.5 feet long, and the Boeing 747-8, which is just over 250 feet long.

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