World’s Largest Airplane Ready for Testing

01 June, 2017

The world's biggest airplane has been shown to reporters in the United States.

The plane, called Stratolaunch, is set to begin testing in the coming weeks.

Stratolaunch weighs about 227,000 kilograms. It has the largest wingspan of any aircraft ever built. It measures 117 meters from one end to the other.

The plane has been kept inside a building in the California desert while being built. It was removed from its home, at the Mojave Air & Space Port, and shown to reporters on Wednesday.

To support its size and weight, Stratolaunch has 28 wheels. The plane can hold more than 113,000 kilograms of fuel. It is powered by six engines made for Boeing 747 aircraft.

To support its huge size and weight, Stratolaunch has 28 wheels. (Stratolaunch Systems)
To support its huge size and weight, Stratolaunch has 28 wheels. (Stratolaunch Systems)

The plane was built for Stratolaunch Systems, a business owned by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen. Allen started the company in 2011 with the hope of building aircraft to launch rockets into space.

Allen says he first became excited about space exploration after watching Russia's Yuri Gagarin become the first man to travel to space in 1961.

"I would never have imagined that, more than 50 years later, access to low Earth orbit (LEO) would still be costly, complex and difficult," Allen wrote in a blog post. "I am determined to change this to help maximize the potential of space to improve life here on Earth."

Stratolaunch Systems is attempting to ease LEO access and provide services such as launching satellites. The company entered a partnership with Scaled Composites to develop and build the new aircraft.

The satellite-carrying rockets are to be connected to the bottom of the plane. Once Stratolaunch reaches a height of about 10,000 meters, the rockets would be dropped, then "air launched" to space.

Stratolaunch Systems said the plane's airport-style launch system and ability to launch rockets over and over again will reduce costs for satellite companies. The plane will also cut wait times between launches and is able to avoid bad weather areas, the company said.

The aircraft is to begin fuel, ground and flight line tests in the coming weeks. The first actual launch demonstration is not expected before 2019.

I'm Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English. His report was based on information from VOANews, the Associated Press and Reuters. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

wingspan n. distance from the end of wing of a plane to the other

access n. way of getting at or near someone or something

determined - adj. having made a decision to do something

maximizev. increase as much as possible

potentialadj. showing or having the ability to develop into something in the future