Stratolaunch conducts second test flight of the world’s largest aircraft

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Stratolaunch has successfully completed the second test flight of its carrier aircraft, the world’s largest by wingspan, in preparation of the first launch of its hypersonic testbed vehicle, Talon-A.

The second flight of the aircraft which has a wingspan of 385ft (117m) lasted 3 hours, 14 minutes over the Mojave Desert, during which time it reached an altitude of 14,000ft.

During the test flight the aircraft’s performance and handling characteristics were confirmed, its payload capacity tested and several enhancements made since the first flight to pressurization systems, gear doors and the safety systems were validated.

The Stratolaunch carrier aircraft has a maximum take-off weight of 1,300,000 lbs (590,000kg) and made its maiden flight in April 2019.

Initially developed as an aerial launch platform for satellites, Stratolaunch now plans to use the carrier aircraft for launching hypersonic air vehicle testbeds.

Stratolaunch is developing three vehicles to launch from its carrier aircraft, two testbeds for hypersonic flight testing, Talon-A and Talon-Z and a space-plane called Black Ice.

Daniel R. Millman, chief technology officer of Stratolaunch said, “We are 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 premier hypersonic flight test service.”

Talon A wind tunnel model

The third Talon-A Low Speed Wind Tunnel Model

Talon-A is a fully reusable, autonomous, liquid rocket-powered Mach 6-class hypersonic vehicle with a length of 28ft (8.5m), wingspan of 14ft (4.3m) and a launch weight of approximately 6,500 pounds (2,948 kg). The vehicle has been designed to provide more than 60 seconds of hypersonic flight test conditions and then glide back for an autonomous landing on a conventional runway.

Stratolaunch is currently assembling a Talon-A Separation test article, which will be the first Talon-A vehicle carried and released by the carrier aircraft, as well as the first rocket-powered Talon-A vehicle. Wind tunnel testing of Talon-A has been done by Calspan at is facility in Buffalo, New York.

At an event held during the second flight, Stratolaunch revealed the Talon-A’s upper skin, which is fabricated from Out-of-Autoclave Bismaleimide (BMI) carbon composite materials and slated to be a component of the second hypersonic vehicle. Bismaleimide is a high temperature thermoset resin with high thermal stability, low off- gassing, and high char yield.

Talon-A upper skin

The Talon-A’s upper skin

The company also displayed the Hadley liquid rocket engine the Talon-A will use, an oxidizer rich staged combustion engine in the 5,000-lbf thrust class developed by Ursa Major Technologies.

Hadley Engine

The Ursa Major Technologies Hadley Engine that will power the first Talon-A testbed

The engine is ready to be installed and tested in Stratolaunch’s under-construction propulsion test facility.

Zachary Krevor, chief operating officer of Stratolaunch said, “We’re focused on safely and securely releasing operational hypersonic vehicles from our carrier aircraft. The test flight today provided valuable insights and data to help us continue this journey.”

@Stratolaunch

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Ben has worked as a journalist and editor, covering technology, engineering and industry for the last 20 years. Initially writing about subjects from nuclear submarines to autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies, he was editor of a leading UK-based engineering magazine before becoming editor of Aerospace Testing in 2017.

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