The “Roc”, the world’s largest plane, was joined by another massive jet, “The Spirit of Mojave”, a Boeing 747-400 capable of launching rockets into space.
The aircraft is well known to the public as it was the “Cosmic Girl”, used by the bankrupt Virgin Orbit until January when a launch from England failed and put the company in a critical financial situation.
In March, Virgin Orbit suspended activities and laid off its 675 employees. A few weeks later, the company’s assets were auctioned to pay its debts.
The Boeing 747-400 was purchased by Stratolaunch for US$17 million and then prepared for delivery, receiving a new paint job in the US company’s black and white colors.
Stratolaunch, however, does not intend to resume its old plan of launching satellites and other objects into space, as was the original idea for the Roc, a six-engine jet with two twin fuselages designed by Scaled Composites.
The Boeing will, in fact, be used as a secondary aircraft in the launch flights of hypersonic test aircraft, led by the Roc.
It has an attachment pylon on the left wing, which carried LauncherOne, a rocket developed by Virgin Orbit and capable of launching payloads of up to 300 kg into orbit. As its mission will now be different, the new owner will possibly make changes to the structure.
According to Stratolaunch, the four-engine aircraft “The Spirit of Mojave” will undergo a period of reconfiguration until it returns to flying in the first half of 2024.
An interesting fact about the ex-Virgin Orbit Boeing 747-400 is that the aircraft carried out five of the six launches from the same Mojave Airport.
The “Roc” was equipped with turbofans that were used in the 747-400, but the two aircraft have engines from different manufacturers. The twin-fuselage aircraft uses the PW4056, from Pratt & Whitney, while “The Spirit of Mojave”, the CF6-80, from GE.