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World’s largest plane makes first test flight

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WASHINGTON: The world's largest airplane - a Stratolaunch behemoth with two fuselages and six Boeing 747 engines - made its first test flight on Saturday in California.

The mega jet carried out its maiden voyage over the Mojave Desert.

It is designed to carry into space, and drop, a rocket that would in turn ignite to deploy satellites.

It is supposed to provide a more flexible way to deploy satellites than vertical take-off rockets because this way all you need is a long runway for take-off.

It was built by an engineering company called Scaled Composites.

The aircraft is so big its wing span is longer than a football field, or about 1.5 times that of an Airbus A380.

Specifically, the wing span is 117m; that of an Airbus A380 is just under 80m.

The plane flew on Saturday for about 21/2 hours, Stratolaunch said. Until now, it had just carried out tests on the ground.

It hit a top speed of 304kmh and reached an altitude of 17,000 feet, or 5,182m.

"What a fantastic first flight," said Mr Jean Floyd, chief executive officer of Stratolaunch.

"Today's flight furthers our mission to provide a flexible alternative to ground-launched systems," he added.

Stratolaunch was financed by Mr Paul Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft, as a way to get into the market for launching small satellites.

But Mr Allen died in October last year so the future of the company is uncertain. - AFP