Stratolaunch flies mammoth airplane with separation test vehicle hooked onto it

Barbie Espinol

The triangular Talon-A separation test vehicle can be seen attached to a pylon between the fuselages of Stratolaunch’s Roc aircraft after takeoff. (Stratolaunch via Twitter)

Stratolaunch — the air-launch company founded by the late Seattle software billionaire Paul Allen — put a test version of its hypersonic vehicle through its first in-the-air trial today.

The Talon-A separation test vehicle, known as TA-0, stayed firmly attached to its Roc carrier airplane throughout today’s five-hour outing, which began and ended at California’s Mojave Air and Space Port. This was Roc’s eighth flight test, but the first to have a payload attached to a wing pylon centered between its twin fuselages. Roc rates as the world’s largest airplane, with a wingspan of 385 feet.

This time, Stratolaunch focused on measuring the aerodynamic loads on the Talon-A test vehicle while mated to Roc, in preparation for future tests that would involve releasing a functional, rocket-equipped Talon-A for hypersonic flight.

Roc reached a maximum altitude of 23,000 feet and a speed of 185 knots (213 mph) during the flight test, Stratolaunch CEO Zachary Krevor said.

“With each successful test milestone achieved, we have built confidence that the hardware will perform exactly as it was designed,” Krevor said in a news release. “It’s exhilarating to see the team’s hard work come to life and see the vehicles fly as an integrated system.”

Stratolaunch is planning additional captive-carry tests in the months ahead, culminating in a drop test of the TA-0 vehicle over the Pacific Ocean in December.

The company is also proceeding with ground tests of its first hypersonic flight test vehicle, TA-1, and with fabrication of its first fully reusable hypersonic vehicles, TA-2 and TA-3. Stratolaunch aims to start delivering hypersonic test services to government and commercial customers next year.

“We’re very bullish about this company now,” Krevor told reporters.

Allen founded Stratolaunch in 2011 with the vision of creating a versatile launch system that could be based at any airport with a runway that’s long enough. After the Microsoft co-founder’s death in 2018, ownership of the company was transferred from Allen’s Vulcan Inc. to Cerberus Capital Management, a private equity firm. Krevor said Allen and his legacy were “certainly always on our minds.”

“We’re very appreciative of the decade of investment provided by Vulcan and the Vulcan estate, and really building upon an incredible set of accomplishments,” he told GeekWire. “So we’re proud to continue on and continue flying his vision, but also very excited to be working under the banner of our new owners, Cerberus Capital Management, and bringing forth this capability for our country.”

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