Burt Rutan, who retired in April from Scaled Composites, the company he founded in Mojave, Calif., has joined with Paul Allen in a plan to build the largest aircraft in the world. Allen, who co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates, funded the SpaceShipOne effort that successfully boosted the first privately funded manned rocket outside the Earth’s atmosphere.
Now Allen’s new company, Stratolaunch Systems, will leverage similar technology to deliver payloads, including people, to Earth orbit. The system includes a six-engine carrier aircraft with a 380-plus-foot wingspan and more than 1.2 million-pound gross weight, which will haul aloft a multi-stage air-launchable booster, built by Space Exploration Technologies.
Scaled Composites will build the carrier aircraft at a new facility at the Mojave Air and Space Port, and first flight is expected within five years. Huntsville, Ala.-based Dynetics is responsible for the mating and integration system.
At the Dubai Air Show in November, Rutan gave no hint that he had been planning the Stratolaunch effort, but did discuss his design of a personal ground-effect aircraft that he planned to operate in and around rivers and lakes near his new home in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.