MOJAVE, Calif. – When you walk into the place where Seattle software billionaire Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch Systems is building the world’s biggest airplane, it feels as if you’re stepping into the Starship Enterprise’s construction zone.
“It’s jaw-dropping when you walk into that hangar,” said Chuck Beames, Stratolaunch’s executive director and president of Vulcan Aerospace, during a rare tour last week.
The plane’s wing, taking shape inside a 103,000-square-foot hangar at the Mojave Air and Space Port, stands three stories off the ground and measures 385 feet from tip to tip. That’s three times longer than the distance of the Wright Brothers’ first powered flight in 1903. If the Enterprise is ever built to its “Star Trek” TV dimensions, now or in the 23rd century, the starship would be only a few dozen feet wider.
It doesn’t take long for the numbers – and the view – to boggle the mind. But there’s another side to the Stratolaunch saga: What’s Paul Allen up to? Stratolaunch is designed to serve as a flying platform for sending satellites into orbit, but who will provide the air-launched rockets? What niche will Stratolaunch fill alongside SpaceX, United Launch Alliance, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and other space companies?
Like the plane, Paul Allen’s vision isn’t quite ready for its full reveal. But five years after its founding, Stratolaunch Systems is providing glimpses behind the veil.