385 Feet of Crazy: The Most Audacious Flying Machine Ever

Steven Levy in Wired:

ON DECEMBER 13, 2011, Paul Allen, the reclusive billionaire and cofounder of Microsoft, stood in front of a group of reporters in Seattle and told them about his wild new plan.

WEARING THE TECH-BRAHMIN uniform of navy blazer, dress shirt, and conspicuously absent tie, Allen made some introductory remarks and then rolled a video simulation of a strange beast of an aircraft leaving an oversize hangar. This was Strato­launch. It would be the largest airplane, by wingspan, ever created. The twin-fuselage, catamaran-style aircraft would be a flying launchpad, its purpose to heave a half-million-pound rocket ship to cruising altitude and then drop it, whereupon the rocket would ignite its engines for a fiery ascent into space. Allen’s hope was that this extraordinary bird would be able to do quick laps between the ground and the stratosphere, making access to space no more exotic than a New York–to–Boston commuter flight.

Burt Rutan took the microphone next. Rutan, a gregarious designer of exotic aircraft, wore a light-blue work shirt and sported huge Elvis-style muttonchops. He was the original architect of the outlandish endeavor and the person who had sold Allen on the project.

More here.