The world’s biggest airplane has made its first successful test flight in the United States.

The huge six-engine aircraft, called Stratolaunch, took its first-ever flight last weekend over the Mojave Desert in California.

The company said the flight lasted two-and-a-half hours. Officials reported the plane reached a top speed of 304 kilometers per hour and reached a height of more than 5,100 meters. Stratolaunch has the largest wingspan of any aircraft in the world. It measures 117 meters from one end to the other.

Jean Floyd, the CEO of Stratolaunch Systems, said in a statement the aircraft made “a fantastic first flight” and landed with no problems.

Stratolaunch was designed as a new way to launch satellites into low-Earth orbit. It was built to take off with a total weight of nearly 600,000 kilograms. To support its size and weight, Stratolaunch has 28 wheels. It is powered by six engines made for Boeing 747 aircraft.

Stratolaunch Systems was launched by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in 2011 with the goal of building aircraft to send rockets into space.

The satellite-carrying launch vehicles are to be connected to the bottom of the plane. Once Stratolaunch reaches a height of about 10,000 meters, the rockets would be released, and 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 greatly 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 business model aims to profit from predicted higher demand for satellite launches in the coming years. Stratolaunch plans to compete with other companies offering similar services. These include U.S.-based SpaceX and United Launch Alliance - a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

While Stratolaunch calls its aircraft the world’s largest, other planes are longer from front to back. These include the Soviet-designed Antonov AN 225 cargo plane, which is 84 meters long, and the Boeing 747-8, which is more than 76.3 meters in length.


Exercise 1


Read the following vocabulary with your teacher.

fantastic (adj.) /fænˈtæstɪk/ - extremely good

  • That meal was fantastic!

launch (v.) /ˈlɑːntʃ/ - to send or shoot (something, such as a rocket) into the air or water or into outer space

  • Two months later, the Soviets launched the Sputnik I satellite.

compete (v.) /kəmˈpiːt/ - to try to be better or more successful than someone or something else

  • We are competing with companies that are twice our size.

cargo (n.) /ˈkɑɚgoʊ/ -  something that is carried from one place to another by boat, airplane, etc.

  • Workers unloaded cargo quickly on the dock.


Exercise 2


Answer these questions about the article.

1. How is the aircraft called?

2. Who was the founder of Stratolaunch Systems?

3. How will Stratolaunch send rockets into space?

4. Which other companies offer similar services as Stratolaunch?


Exercise 3

Make a sentence.

Make sentences using these words.

fantastic, launch, compete, cargo


Exercise 4


Have a discussion on following questions.

1. What do you think of Stratolaunch's new aircraft?

2. What do you think the most difficult thing about designing an aircraft is?

3. Would you like to become pilot one day?

4. Do you like flying?


This lesson is based on a news article originally published by VOA.