back to article Microsoft founder Paul Allen reveals world's biggest-ever plane

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has shown off the “Stratolaunch”, a colossal aircraft he hopes can soon help to hoist satellites into low earth orbit. Allen's company of the same name has been working on the craft since 2011, with the help of Scaled Composites. The result of their efforts is 238 feet long, 50 feet tall and …

Hang on...

Isn't there a Thunderbirds episode about this very plane? I got the weirdest feeling of deja vue looking at the pictures. Any bald headed men with glowing eyes seen in the vicinity???

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Re: Hang on...

Thunderbirds was my first thought too.

This is the stuff we were promised as children

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Re: Hang on...

Wasn't that plane nuclear-powered?

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Coat

Re: Hang on...

But... Can you see the strings?

mines the one with a copy of Andy-Pandy in the pocket.

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Re: Hang on...

With the exception of Thunderbird Six pretty much everything that flew was nuclear powered.

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Re: Hang on... Nuclear

Lockheed Martin?

It's not that people haven't thought of it.

Try https://www.google.com/search?q=nuclear+plane+fusion

I remember reading that USA actually considered a fission nuclear powered bomber. Or why bother with "spaceplanes" at all? Project Orion.

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Re: Hang on...

"Wasn't that plane nuclear-powered?

In the 1960ies, everything was nuclear-powered.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Hang on...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero-X

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Mushroom

Re: Hang on... Nuclear

Or why bother with "spaceplanes" at all? Project Orion.

Orion has the bijou problemette that the resulting EMP would fry virtually all the electronics in the same hemisphere. Apart from that though, it's basically early 20th C (battle)ship building technology - loads of thick steel plate and bloody big springs.

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TRT
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Re: Thunderbirds

I was thinking more the orbital craft launch system from UFO.

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Re: Hang on... Nuclear

I think Orion's bijou problemette was the radiation that would rain down on mother earth with each launch. The Project calculated statistically that each launch would kill 2 people. Now that sounds bad but look how many folks (usually construction workers) die in major civil engineering projects. Still, a tough call to make and the atmospheric test ban treaty finally sealed the fate.

Put a Project Orion craft outside the magnetosphere and said radiation wouldn't be a problem. So we're back to needing a more benign method of getting into orbit. One-and-a-half 747's strapped together suddenly doesn't look that crazy.

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Re: Hang on...

Thunderbirds was my first thought too

Elon Musk has five sons...

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Re: Hang on...

Yep, me too - my second thought was the proposal from Vickers to make a jumbo jet from the VC10 - by having three fuselages flying in close formation:

http://www.airvectors.net/avvc10.html (near foot of page)

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Re: Hang on... Nuclear

Yep, the NB-36. The reactor never powered the plane, but it was fired up in flight.

It already had 10 engines (4 jet, 6 piston), what's one more...

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Re: Elon Musk has five sons...

Has he bought a remote volcanic island in the South Pacific Ocean?

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Re: Elon Musk has five sons...

Obviously he's not going to tell anyone when he buys a remote volcanic island in the South Pacific Ocean. A secret base isn't secret if you tweet out "just bought a remote volcanic island in the South Pacific Ocean that will be perfect for my secret base".

So I think we can assume he owns at least one such island, based on the fact he hasn't tweeted about it.

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Re: Elon Musk has five sons...

http://blog.solarcity.com/island-in-the-sun/

He has form of course...

And he probably would tweet about it.

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Mushroom

Re: Hang on...

Including Granny cooking the food in a nuclear cooker & not being able to get the rods right if I recall correctly.

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Re: Elon Musk has five sons...

until he has his own space station, I'm not impressed :P

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Re: Elon Musk has five sons...

A volcanic island in the South Pacific is too twentieth century for Musk. His volcanic lair will be on Mars. Honestly, what self-respecting super-villian wouldn't put their lair in the largest volcano in the Solar System.

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Re: Elon Musk has five sons...

"Honestly, what self-respecting super-villian wouldn't put their lair in the largest volcano in the Solar System[?]"

One who realises that a fifty-mile-long elevator ride is going to get tiresome in a hurry?

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Paris Hilton

Re: Hang on...

"Any bald headed men with glowing eyes seen in the vicinity???"

Anyone see Steve Ballmer lately?

Paris is looking :)

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Re: Hang on... Nuclear

convair nb-36h

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Convair_NB-36H

The Convair NB-36H was a bomber that carried a nuclear reactor. It was also known as the "Crusader".[1] It was created for the Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion program, or the ANP, to show the feasibility of a nuclear-powered bomber. Its development ended with the cancellation of the ANP program.

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Boffin

Re: Hang on...

Obviously this must be a project 'Brains' concocted - he's the glasses wearing geek behind it all!

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Re: Thunderbirds

Set in the early 1980's yet here we are, over 30 years later, still wearing shirts with buttons and neckties as "smart" "professional" business attire in spite of the hazards.

And we still don't have a Moonbase with pretty girls in purple wigs and very short skirts.

Those skirts would be quite interesting on the Moon. Other things, too.

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Re: Hang on... Nuclear

I have sometimes wondered why they didn't go for an RTG style power plant driving propellers. That way they could have had something like a SHIELD helicarrier.

Refuels would be as simple as plug-and-play, hot-swappable units being replaced as each was used up.

Or is that a totally absurd, physically impossible non-starter?

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Re: Hang on... Nuclear

Simple answer. Power to weight ratio.

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Mushroom

Re: Hang on... Nuclear

>Put a Project Orion craft outside the magnetosphere and said radiation wouldn't be a problem

Trouble is, you would need dozens of ordinary rocket launches to deliver the little nuclear bombs to your bomb-powered interplanetary ship. They would probably cause a of concern and protest, to put it mildly. I fear this idea will not fly, until you can manufacture the bomblets off-Earth.

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Re: Hang on...

> make a jumbo jet from the VC10 - by having three fuselages flying

Had to look because it was so hard to believe. In the event, utterly awesome and very definitely Thunderbirds material if the outer fuselages detached shortly after launch. I can hear the music now...

Thanks for the link.

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Re: Hang on... Nuclear

Charlie Stross:A Colder War

"The Convair B-39 Peacemaker is the most formidable weapon in our Strategic Air Command's arsenal for peace. Powered by eight nuclear-heated Pratt and Whitney NP-4051 turbojets, it circles endlessly above the Arctic ice cap, waiting for the call.

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Re: Hang on...

Nope, just a heavy lifter build with spare 747 parts.

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LOHAN

So it's basically LOHAN with a plane instead of a balloon?

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Headmaster

Re: LOHAN

And a slight but rather crucial difference in scale, and also this one may really fly (RIP Lester, we miss you!)

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Re: LOHAN

Coincidentally both this and LOHAN were begun in 2011. The FAA does indeed work in mysterious byzantine ways.

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Boffin

Interesting

I wonder why the tails are separate rather than sharing a wing,

See

Twin boom aircraft

Twin fuselage aircraft

It would maybe reduce drag (if no outer wing) and also make the structure more stable?

( I nearly typed Theresa May).

This is weird: Airbus patent

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Re: Interesting

I wondered that too. All I can think of is they actually want it to have a little more flexibility. The thing is big, even a hundredth of a degree of difference between fuselages would add up to disaster if the tails were fused, especially under the kinds of load that this thing will be subject to.

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Re: Interesting

> I wonder why the tails are separate rather than sharing a wing,

Avoiding potential turbulence from the payload?

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Re: Interesting

> I wonder why the tails are separate rather than sharing a wing,

Yes, it seems odd, but I would imagine the tail, rather like the good old Vampire, would be fried by the launching rocket, which would either leave the solution as raising the tails or leaving a blast gap. But it would be interesting to understand the engineering that allows this plane to cope with the torsional stresses it must surely experience, and it is somehow surprising that the mid-wing section is so thin. Or to put it another way, I wonder how much the two tails will move in relation to each other, especially when banking.

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Re: Interesting

'I wonder why the tails are separate rather than sharing a wing,'

I was thinking the same thing, maybe to avoid rocket efflux impinging on the horizontal stabiliser?

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Re: Interesting

the tail, rather like the good old Vampire, would be fried by the launching rocket,

Not sure I'd want to be flying that if the rocket were ignited while still attached, though. I'd been assuming more of a 'light the blue touch paper & retire" operation where they'd start a delayed ignition sequence and then drop the rocket, so they were well clear when it lit up (or blew up).

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Re: Interesting

'I'd been assuming more of a 'light the blue touch paper & retire" operation where they'd start a delayed ignition sequence and then drop the rocket'

Probably correct, although I guess it depends how far you plan for it to drop whether there's a risk of the tailplane being damaged. Of course they may have left the gap there to reduce the chance for rocket/aircraft interference in the event of some sort of emergency requiring jettisoning the rocket.

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Flame

Re: Interesting

"would imagine the tail, rather like the good old Vampire, would be fried by the launching rocket,"

If they're planning on firing the rocket engines while close enough to fry the tail, I DO NOT WANT to be aboard this aircraft. Ever!

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Re: Interesting

Although if it then failed to ignite, you'd probably lose rocket and payload. For comparison, during a SpaceX launch the rocket is held down by clamps for a few moments after ignition, while the computer checks the telemetry and decides whether it is healthy. Launches have been aborted after ignition, with no harm done; just fix the problem and try again. I don't know if this is standard for rockets that are not reusable.

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Headmaster

Re: Interesting

And for reference, they can just look at the XS-1 space plane and its launch system plus its predecessors and parallel projects like the X-43.

Those were usually slung under the wing of a standard aircraft and released before ignition, but it's a similar concept. Of course the release before ignition was rather crucial unless you wanted to send aforementioned aircraft into a rather interesting if short-lived spin before it hit the dirt hard.

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Boffin

Re: Interesting

@ Brangdon - just for reference, if the Rocket uses liquid propellants the Engine can be switched on and off. If the Rocket uses Solid Fuels, the Motor (solids always have Motors, whilst liquids always have Engines) once ignited cannot be stopped.

So with something which carries both liquid engine stages and solid boosters, like Ariane 5, once you've lit the solid motors, you are going to space today...

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Re: Interesting

I wonder why the tails are separate rather than sharing a wing

It may actually make it too stiff and have adverse effects on the rudder given the two fuselages look to be more or less 100' apart. Just spitballing but one might imagine a rigid beam across the back may require something akin to Ackermann geometry for the rudder deflection but if they are independent each side is free to move a bit without undue stress. It also seems to be a trend of modern design as looking at your twin fuselage link many of the newer designs have independent tails from the Pipistrel and twin C-5 Galaxy to other Scaled Composite designs like White Knight One and Two.

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Re: Interesting

If they're planning on firing the rocket engines while close enough to fry the tail, I DO NOT WANT to be aboard this aircraft. Ever!

Indeed, Sir Hugo Drax might fancy stealing it while in flight.

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Re: Interesting

It's the twin cockpits and twin bodies that worry me, won't both pilots think they are flying different planes? What if they steer in different directions?

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Re: Interesting

This is most likely simply about weight. A full tailplane joining the two tailbooms would be quite hefty. The only task of the tailplane is to provide a certain amount of force to keep the plane balanced and an added amount of variable force to provide pitch control. If that can be done by 2 smaller tailplanes you have less weight far aft of the CG that then needs to be compensated ahead of the CG with even more weight to keep the CG within limits.

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How long before ...

... Ellison stops playing at toy boats? My guess is before the year is out.

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