Stratolaunch First Flight: Our Favorite Moments

On April 13, 2019, the world watched as the largest plane on Earth took flight for the first time in Mojave, California, soaring above the dusty orange mountains less than an hour after sunrise.

Countless photos, videos and live streams flooded social media feeds. The crew on the ground threw their arms up in victory and cheered. Years of hard work had finally paid off. History had been made.

From the moments of anticipation just before takeoff to the joyous celebrations after landing, we’ve compiled the best photos we captured from that day. Congratulations again to the Stratolaunch and Scaled Composites teams for this truly epic maiden flight.

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From left to right: Chris Guarente (co-pilot), Evan Thomas (pilot) and Jake Riley (flight engineer) walk through the hangar toward the Stratolaunch aircraft during the early morning hours before takeoff. All three were on board during the historic first flight. “I honestly could not have hoped for more on a first flight especially of an airplane of this complexity and this uniqueness,” said Thomas in a press briefing after first flight. “So again my thanks to everyone who did anything to design this airplane, build it, to test it and put it in the air today.”

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A chase plane takes off moments before the Stratolaunch aircraft takes flight. The Cessna Citation jet followed the Stratolaunch aircraft throughout the entire flight.

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A Stratolaunch employee waits for the historic first flight, wearing a Seattle Seahawks PGA patch in honor of Paul Allen. The space launch company was founded by Allen. “It was an emotional moment for me to personally watch this majestic bird take flight and to see Paul Allen’s dream come to life in front of my very eyes,” said Jean Floyd, CEO of Stratolaunch.

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With a 385-foot wingspan and powered by six 747 engines, the aircraft takes off, making history.

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Stratolaunch and Scaled Composites employees erupt in cheers as the aircraft leaves the ground. “I had imagined this moment for years, but I’d never imagined the experience without Paul standing next to me,” said Floyd. “And even though he wasn’t there today, as the plane lifted gracefully from the runway I did whisper a ‘thank you’ to Paul for allowing me to be a part of this remarkable achievement.”

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The Stratolaunch aircraft soars above Mojave Air and Space Port.

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The plane successfully embarks on a 2.5 hour voyage. “The flight itself was smooth, which is exactly what you want the first flight to be,” said Thomas. “And for the most part, the airplane flew as predicted which is again exactly what we want. Again, a tribute to all the folks here at Scaled who designed the airplane, then built it to design and it flew much as we expected.”

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The aircraft makes a low pass trip over the crowd before circling back for landing. “To view the Stratolaunch aircraft in flight was nothing short of breathtaking and the moment was made all the more special knowing how many people have contributed to its success since its inception in 2011,” said Floyd.

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Crew on the ground watch in anticipation as the Stratolaunch aircraft comes in for a landing.

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The aircraft lands successfully.

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Guarente, Riley and Thomas exit the aircraft and celebrate with crew on the ground. “It was really great to see both the Scaled and Stratolaunch teams working together and especially satisfying for our own Stratolaunch engineering team which contributed communication and background support for the Scaled test team,” said Zachary Krevor, Vice President of Engineering at Stratolaunch. “On the final countdown leading to today, and then today, was the culmination of both teams working through interfaces to become a single cohesive unit.”

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Riley gets doused with water by fellow crew members during celebrations post landing.

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Guarente hugs his son. “From the flight crew today, to the engineers, builders and all the people who work tirelessly to get to this event, we dedicate this day to the man who inspired us all to strive for ways to empower the world’s problem solvers, Paul Allen,” said Floyd. “Without a doubt he would have been exceptionally proud to see his aircraft take flight.”

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The Scaled Composites team gathers to celebrate an historic first flight.