Here at New Source Corp it has been made clear by our posts how much we love airplanes. Not just because of the companies that build them, but because we are so excited to see the new technologies coming to life. That is why we are very eager to investigate the newest of planes being unveiled: the largest plane ever built!
How does this plane compare to the previous planes considered to be the largest plane ever built?
Obviously there have already been other extremely large planes. Each plane had reasons for being huge, so why would we need a new enormous plane if we already had these other planes? These planes gave guidelines for the new plane’s designers to overcome that have held back its predecessors:
- Although considered the world’s largest plane before this new plane was built, the Antonov An-225 was actually only larger than the “Spruce Goose” only in its length of about 275 ft. The Antonov probably takes the title because it carries a little over 600 tons inside or a space shuttle on top, using 6 D-18T engines, giving it a total of 44,000 lbs of thrust. It was designed in the late 80’s for the Soviet Union’s space program before the space program was disassembled, but was brought back to life around 2010.
- The “Spruce Goose” was built in the early 1940’s with the purpose of shuttling war supplies across the Atlantic. It was built entirely of birch wood, instead of the pine its nickname implies, since the war made metals so hard to come by. Although it is larger than the Antonov in both height and wingspan, it only made a single flight with no cargo. It was completed by Howard Hughes just as the war was ending so it was no longer needed. Hughes told the government it was a failure and he was going to leave the country because of it, but he never did. After Hughes died, the plane was passed around from museum to museum up and down the west coast, never belonging to the government, and now it is on display at the Western Museum of Flight in Torrance, California.
What makes this plane the largest plane ever built?
Just like the planes before it, its size was necessary to complete a purpose, but before it could do its job, it had to have the necessary components:
- Stratolaunch is only bigger in wingspan than the other two planes, not length or width even though it is 5 stories tall, but it is a lot bigger. It beats the Spruce Goose by nearly 65 feet, in metal not wood.
- It has 28 wheels and can carry a shuttle, like the Antonov, but it will carry the shuttle below and between the two Fuselages, or bodies, of the plane instead of on top, and it can carry roughly 50 tons more than Antonov.
- For now it can carry satellites up to 10,000 pounds, 4,000 pounds less than the “James Webb Space Telescope (part 2)” discussed in the previous blog, but that satellite is unusually larger because it will be orbiting farther than any other satellite. Eventually with future upgrades it is intended to carry roughly 13,000 pounds.
- 6 General Electric GEnx turbine engines, 747engines, each with 66,500 lbs of thrust, will be driving this beast. Most of the engines from our blogs have been on jets, not commercial airliners, except for the LEAP on the 737 from the blog “The new recycling: New metals, new engines, with old planes”. In comparison, the LEAP provides a maximum thrust of 28,000 lbs.
- Stratolaunch will take off and land at any international airport and use regular jet fuel.
Eventually Stratolaunch could be used to launch people into space, but for now, it is simply being removed from the hanger to allow fuel usage tests to be completed. Flight tests are not expected until 2018 but the true deadline is the first launch anticipated in 2019. That is the true purpose of this plane.
What is the purpose of the largest plane ever built?
Paul Allen, an industry-changing designer, is teaming up with Orbital ATK and Pegasus XL to do it again. They don’t want this massive plane transporting people, they want to launch rockets while in flight! The idea is to rise above the troposphere, the weather’s layer of the atmosphere, about 7 miles above the earth. That removes weather delays experienced by ground launches but it also assist the rocket’s ability to overcome gravity. Anything trying to get from the ground into space requires 7 miles per second thrust. A plane is already about 7 miles off the ground and moving at roughly 16 miles per second. A rocket launched from that plane would be able to get into space much easier! Imagine the possibilities and the boundaries that could now be overcome. Every company in the space race is probably rethinking some of their designs previously thought to be impossible.