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Stratolaunch megaplane gets closer to first flight

21/09/2017
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The largest airplane in the world by wingspan (385 feet) has edged closer to its first flight with the completion of the first phase of engine testing this week.
For the first time, the aircraft's six Pratt & Whitney turbofan engines were started
(Image via Dylan Schwartz).

The Stratolaunch megaplane is the brain child of Paul Allen’s aerospace company, Stratolaunch Systems and was first unveiled back in May.

Stratolaunch Systems has stated that the primary purpose of the enormous twin-fuselage aircraft is to carry rockets up to altitude and drop them. The rockets will then ignite and carry satellites the rest of the way to orbit. The aim is to provide a more cost effective and fuel efficient way of launching payloads into space.

But back to the engine testing…

For the first time, the aircraft’s six Pratt & Whitney turbofan engines were started.

The engine testing was conducted with a build-up approach and consisted of three phases. First as a ‘dry motor’, where an auxiliary power unit was used to charge the engine. ‘Wet motor’ tests followed, where fuel was introduced to the system. Finally, each engine was started one at a time and allowed to idle. In these initial tests, each of the six engines operated as expected.
Besides the engines, several other systems were tested including the flight control system.
(Image via Dylan Schwartz).

A number of other systems tests were completed also. Engineers tested the flight control system, exercising the full limits of motion and rate of deflection of control surfaces on the wing and stabilizers.

Over the coming months, Stratolaunch Systems will continue to test the aircraft’s engines at higher power levels and varying configurations, leading ultimately to the start of taxi tests.

Once Stratolaunch takes to the skies, we’ll be truly entering a new era of aviation innovation…

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