‘This is the Real Darkstar’: We Talked With Stratolaunch Ahead of Talon-A Test


Stratolaunch Talon-A
Jan Mack of TheAviationist captured video of Stratolaunch during taxi testing on Monday. (Photo: TheAviationist.com/Jan Mack)

Mojave Spotters Get Thrilling View of Stratolaunch Preparing for New Flights.

The only thing faster than a Thunderbird sneak pass at a big airshow is a rumor about what “might” be on the flying schedule. And rumors at the recent Aerospace Valley Air Show at Edwards AFB in California proved to be hypersonic when a few lucky photographers at the nearby Mojave Air and Space Port got to see actual taxi testing of the world’s largest flying aircraft, the Scaled Composites Model 351 Stratolaunch or “Roc” and its hypersonic passenger, the Talon-A. We’ve got video…

This past Monday, October 17, 2022, videographer Jan Mack of The Aviationist was at the Mojave Air and Space Port acting on a tip from a reliable spotter that Stratolaunch may be on the move. She was able to catch video of the giant aircraft conducting taxi testing in preparation for upcoming flights.

“It was further away from the hangar than the past few days. It was pretty far back, almost at the end of the runway. There were a lot of vehicles with crew around it.”

Jan Mack of TheAviationist had seen the Stratolaunch parked outside its massive hangar two days before the taxi tests when personnel were photographed inspecting engines and performing what appeared to be other checks on the aircraft in preparation for… something.

“I was there for four cycles of [taxi tests]. From Highway 14, I could see it was halfway down the runway. They did a U-turn on the runway, which took a long time.” Mack went on to report that, “It was unbelievable. The sheer size of it. It’s like the physic won’t allow for it to actually fly.”

But Stratolaunch can and will fly; soon. Kate Squires, Communications Leader and Strategist at Stratolaunch told us that, “A series of flights is immanent”. Squires said that Stratolaunch has, “Completed taxi testing” for this upcoming series of flights and that there is, “Quite a bit of data to plow through”. Following analysis of data and completion of other preparations, Stratolaunch could fly, “in the next few weeks”, but no date has been officially released.

The Mach 6+ hypersonic payload on Stratolaunch for this series of Stratolaunch Roc flights will be the Talon-A, an “autonomous, reusable testbed that makes flight testing more accessible and affordable” according to Stratolaunch. Talon-A flies at hypersonic speed in the atmosphere and has a series of modular cargo compartments and flight surfaces for equipment used in various tests during high speed flight. “We liken it to the X-15”, Kate Squires told TheAviationist. “This is the real Darkstar”, Squires quipped during a phone interview in a clear reference to the “Top Gun: Maverick” movie prop on display at Edwards AFB.

Members from the Stratolaunch team were also displaying down the road from the Mojave Air & Space Port in the STEM Expo at the Aerospace Valley Air Show at Edwards AFB. Stratolaunch had a fascinating display staffed with their engineers in an enormous hangar dedicated to the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics curriculum for students. The Stratolaunch team displayed a full-sized Talon-A hypersonic test vehicle, which attracted plenty of attention. One STEM Expo attendee told TheAviationist, “It’s interesting that people are outside looking at a movie prop, when the real hypersonic aircraft is actually in here!”

The Talon-A hypersonic research vehicle on display at the STEM Expo of the Aerospace Valley Airshow at Edwards AFB.

The payload carried by Roc can’t be seen from the angle our above video was recorded, but the following one, sent us by Misael Ocasio Hernandez, clearly shows it. His footage is remarkable for many reasons, including the fact it depicts “Stargazer”, the last flying L-1011 Tristar, a former airliner with Air Canada, modified to serve as the launch platform for Orbital’s air-launched Pegasus rocket, for captive tests and transportation of the X-34 hypersonic research aircraft, as well as a platform for various airborne research projects.

Tom Demerly is a feature writer, journalist, photographer and editorialist who has written articles that are published around the world on TheAviationist.com, TACAIRNET.com, Outside magazine, Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, The Dearborn Press & Guide, National Interest, Russia’s government media outlet Sputnik, and many other publications. Demerly studied journalism at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Michigan. Tom Demerly served in an intelligence gathering unit as a member of the U.S. Army and Michigan National Guard. His military experience includes being Honor Graduate from the U.S. Army Infantry School at Ft. Benning, Georgia (Cycle C-6-1) and as a Scout Observer in a reconnaissance unit, Company “F”, 425th INF (RANGER/AIRBORNE), Long Range Surveillance Unit (LRSU). Demerly is an experienced parachutist, holds advanced SCUBA certifications, has climbed the highest mountains on three continents and visited all seven continents and has flown several types of light aircraft.


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