World's largest plane makes first test flight

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The Stratolaunch is designed to carry into space, and drop, a rocket that would in turn ignite to deploy satellites

The Stratolaunch is designed to carry into space, and drop, a rocket that would in turn ignite to deploy satellites (AFP Photo/Handout)

Washington (AFP) - The world's largest airplane -- a Stratolaunch behemoth with two fuselages and six Boeing 747 engines -- made its first test flight on Saturday in California.

The mega jet carried out its maiden voyage over the Mojave desert.

It is designed to carry into space, and drop, a rocket that would in turn ignite to deploy satellites.

It is supposed to provide a more flexible way to deploy satellites than vertical takeoff rockets because this way all you need is a long runway for takeoff.

It was built by an engineering company called Scaled Composites.

The aircraft is so big its wing span is longer than a football field, or about 1.5 times that of an Airbus A380.

Specifically, the wing span is 117 meters; that of an Airbus A380 is just under 80.

The plane flew Saturday for about two and a half hours, Stratolaunch said. Until now, it had just carried out tests on the ground.

It hit a top speed of 304 kilometers per hour (189 mph) and reached an altitude of 17,000 feet, or 5,182 meters.

"What a fantastic first flight," said Jean Floyd, CEO of Stratolaunch.

"Today's flight furthers our mission to provide a flexible alternative to ground launched systems," he added.

Stratolaunch was financed by Paul Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft as a way to get into the market for launching small satellites.

But Allen died in October of last year so the future of the company is uncertain.