This is the Stratolaunch. With a wingspan of 385 feet, this special plane is now the largest in the world. Don't expect to see it at your local airport though; this craft has a more important purpose than transporting people.
Why is everyone talking about this plane? Take a closer look at it, and you'll soon see for yourself...
By the numbers, the Stratolaunch -- code name "Roc" -- is the largest plane ever built. Its wings measure 385 feet across, longer than a professional football field. Its twin fuselages are 238 feet long, while its tail height is 50 feet.
As such, it had to be constructed here at the Mojave Air and Space Port, inside a specially constructed 88,000-square-foot hangar.
This graphic shows the planned operation of the Stratolaunch. The plane first carries a rocket to an altitude of roughly 35,000 feet. The rocket then separates from the plane and engages its own engines to continue its climb.
For its first launch in 2019, the Stratolaunch will carry a single Pegasus XL rocket, built by Orbital ATK. The craft is designed, however, to carry as many as three of these between its twin fuselages.
Many of the systems of the Stratolaunch were borrowed from Boeing 747-400 planes in the most literal sense. Engineers cannibalized the engines, avionics, flight decks and landing gear of two such planes during the building process, including the one shown here.
This is the inside of a Boeing 747-400, showing you what the cockpit of the Stratolaunch looks like. The record-breaking plane is designed to operate under a three-person crew: the pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer.
Caption byFox Van Allen
/ Photo by Brooks Kraft/Corbis/Getty Images
Once the Stratolaunch has proved itself in testing, the craft is expected to participate in six to 10 missions per year.
This is Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. He and Scaled Composites founder Burt Rutan created Stratolaunch Systems on Dec. 13, 2011, to develop a new air-launch-to-orbit system that could revolutionize space transportation.
When you're the sole financier of a plane, you're allowed to climb this high for a photo op.
"It is a big initial fixed investment to get this going," Allen said when announcing the project in 2011. "But you have a certain number of dreams in your life that you want to fulfill, and this is a dream that I'm very excited about seeing come to fruition."
"Over the past few weeks, we have removed the fabrication infrastructure, including the three-story scaffolding surrounding the aircraft, and rested the aircraft's full weight on its 28 wheels for the first time," said Stratolaunch Systems CEO Jean Floyd. "This was a crucial step in preparing the aircraft for ground testing, engine runs, taxi tests and, ultimately, first flight."
Allen's motivations for building and financing the Stratolaunch were made clear in a 2016 statement.
"When such access to space is routine, innovation will accelerate in ways beyond what we can currently imagine," he wrote. "That's the thing about new platforms: when they become easily available, convenient and affordable, they attract and enable other visionaries and entrepreneurs to realize more new concepts."
The Stratolaunch is being built and tested at the Mojave Air and Space Port, located in California's Mojave desert. It's the first facility to be licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration as a "spaceport" to support reusable spacecraft.
Of course, the Stratolaunch isn't the only strange private spacecraft at the Mojave Space Port. Check out the Rotary Rocket, an odd private launch vehicle from the late 1990s that was powered by a helicopter-like rotary blade. It made three successful hover flights in 1999.
The Rotary Rocket Company ultimately ran out of funds and was abandoned in 2001.
This is neither Rutan's (left) nor Allen's first attempt at creating a commercially viable aircraft. The duo teamed up over a decade ago to build SpaceShipOne at the Mojave Space Port, the first privately built and piloted reusable vehicle to reach space.
That ship is now on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.