For Sale: The World’s Largest Airplane*

Stratolaunch takes off. (Credit: Stratolaunch)

As we previously reported, Stratolaunch is up for sale. Paul Allen’s sister Jody Allen, the executor of her brother’s estate, has no interest in continuing the development of the giant airplane, which is designed to air launch rockets.

CNBC reports on the eye popping price tag:

Holding company Vulcan is seeking to sell Stratolaunch for $400 million, people familiar with the matter told CNBC. Vulcan is the investment conglomerate of late billionaire Paul Allen, a Microsoft co-founder. Allen died last October following complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The hefty price tag includes ownership of the airplane as well as the intellectual property and facilities.

Stratolaunch is the world’s largest airplane by wingspan, which stretches 385 feet — longer than an American football field. The plane is powered by six jet engines salvaged from Boeing 747 aircraft.

Allen’s vision of a massive plane that can launch rockets from the air was at least partially fulfilled in April, when Stratolaunch flew for the first time after about eight years in development. Based at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, the giant airplane flew for more than two hours before landing after what was deemed a successful first flight.

The story said that Vulcan approach Richard Branson about purchasing the aircraft, which is designed to air launch rockets. .Branson’s space companies include: Virgin Galactic, which air launches SpaceShipTwo from the WhiteKnightTwo mother ship; Virgin Orbit, whose LauncherOne is air launched from a Boeing 747; and The Spaceship Company, which builds vehicles and rockets for both companies..

However, Branson offered to purchase the aircraft for $1, the story said.  In 2003, he made a similar low-ball offer to purchase supersonic Concorde aircraft that British Airways was retiring. Branson raised the bid significantly, but he was ultimately unsuccessful.

Stratolaunch could require a substantial investment by anyone who purchases it. The new owner would have to complete a flight test program, which to date consists of a single flight of 2.5 hours.

The new owner would also need to develop a booster to use with the aircraft. Earlier this year,  Vulcan canceled a series of boosters the company was building. Earlier attempts to hire outside companies to build boosters for the giant aircraft were unsuccessful.

Another possibility is the development of a pod that would allow Stratolaunch to transport large cargo. However, it is not clear what cargo exists that cannot be carried by existing aircraft.

* by wingspan