Who Really Has The Largest Aircraft?

We were all glued to our screens for a moment a few weeks ago, watching the Scaled Composites Stratolaunch dual-fuselage space launch platform aircraft make its first flight. The six-engined aircraft represents an impressive technical feat by any standard, and with a wingspan of 385 ft (117 m) and payload weight of 550,000 lb (250 t), is touted as the largest ever flown.

Our own Brian Benchoff took a look at the possibility of hauling more mundane cargo as an alternative (and possibly more popular) use of its lifting capabilities. And in doing so mentioned that “by most measure that matter” this is the largest aircraft ever built. There are several contenders for the title of largest aircraft that depend upon different statistics, so which one really is the largest? Sometimes it’s not as clear as you’d think, but finding out leads us into a fascinating review of some unusual aeronautical engineering.

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The Stratolaunch Is Flying, But Can It Do Cargo?

The world’s largest aircraft is flying. Stratolaunch took to the skies in test flights leading up to its main mission to take rockets up to 20,000 feet on the first stage of their flight to space. But the Stratolaunch is a remarkable aircraft, a one-of-a-kind, and unlike anything ever built before. It can lift a massive 250 tons into the air, and it can bring it back down again.

By most measures that matter, the Stratolaunch is the largest aircraft ever flown. It has the largest wingspan of any aircraft, and it has the largest cargo capacity of any aircraft. In an industry that is grasping at interesting and novel approaches to spaceflight like rockoons and a small satellite launcher from a company whose CTO is still a junior in college, the Stratolaunch makes unexpected sense; this is a launch platform above the clouds, that can deliver a rocket to orbit, on time.

But the Stratolaunch is much more than that. This is an aircraft whose simple existence deserves respect. And, like others of its kind, the Antonov AN-225, the Spruce Goose, there is only one. Even if it never launches a rocket, the Stratolaunch will live on by the simple nature of its unique capabilities. But what are those capabilities? Is it possible for the Stratolaunch to serve as a cargo plane? The answer is more interesting than you think.

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The Largest Aircraft Ever Built Will Soon Launch Rockets To Space

Deep in the mojave, the largest aircraft ever made will soon be making test flights. This is the Stratolaunch, and it’s measured the largest to ever fly based on wingspan. The Stratolaunch was constructed out of two 747s, and is designed for a single purpose: as a mobile launch platform for orbital rockets.

There are a couple of ways to measure the size of an aircraft. The AN-225 Mriya has the highest payload capacity, but only one of those was ever built (though that might change soon). The Spruce Goose was formerly the largest aircraft by wingspan, but it only flew once, and only in ground effect. The Stratolaunch is in another category entirely. This is an aircraft that contains some of the largest composite structures on the planet. Not only can you park a school bus between the fuselages of the Stratolaunch, you can strap that school bus to the plane and carry it up to 30,000 feet.

But why build this astonishing aircraft? The reasons go back more than a decade, and the end result is a spaceplane.

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Hackaday Links: June 4, 2017

Quick question: what was the first personal computer? We love pointless arguments over technological history, so let’s just go down the list. It wasn’t an IBM, and the guy who invented the personal computer said he didn’t invent the personal computer. The Apple I is right out, and there were some weird Italian things that don’t quite count. Here’s an auction for, “The first personal computer”, a MICRAL N, released in 1974. There’s an 8080 running at 500kHz with 16kB of RAM and ‘mixed memory’. This is an important bit of history that belongs in a museum, and the auction will start at €20,000. The starting price might be a bit high; recently an original Apple I sold at auction for €90,000. This is a pittance for what these things usually go for. Is the market for vintage retrocomputers dropping out from underneath us? Only time will tell.

In Upstate NY? There’s a Hacker con going on June 16-17. You can get 20% off your ticket to ANYCon by using the code ‘HACKADAY’.

Colorblind? Hackaday readers suffer from colorblindness at a higher rate than the general population. [João] created this really neat tool to differentiate colors on a screen. Windows only, but still handy.

Everyone’s excited about the $150 3D printer that will be released by Monoprice sometime this summer. Here’s a $99 3D printer. Yes, it’s a Kickstarter so the standard warnings apply, but this bot does have a few things going for it. It uses actual NEMA 17 motors, and the people behind this printer actually have experience in manufacturing hardware. The downsides? It’s entirely leadscrew driven, so it’s going to be very, very slow.

What do you call the dumbest person with an EE degree? An engineer. It’s at this point where you should realize the value of a tertiary education is not defined by the most capable graduates; it’s defined by the least capable graduates.

Here’s your Sunday evening viewing: [Bunnie] gave a talk on RISC-V and the expectations of Open Hardware.

Hey, OpenBuilds has a new Mini Mill. It’s a basic CNC router designed for small ~1HP Bosch or Dewalt laminate trimmers. Small, but capable.

Kerbal Space Program, the only video game that should be required study materials at the Air Force Academy, Embry-Riddle and for everyone working at NASA, has been acquired by Take-Two Interactive. By all accounts, this is good news. According to reports, the original dev team left for Valve a few months ago, reportedly because of terrible conditions at Squad, the (former) developer of KSP.

The Stratolaunch carrier aircraft has rolled out of the hangar. It’s two 747s duct speed taped together.