The Stratolaunch is huge, but it’s not the strangest aircraft ever built in Southern California

Stratolaunch's left fuselage, which will house flight data systems.

Southern California has long been the breeding ground for new and unconventional aircraft.

It was the birthplace of such fanciful dreams as the Spruce Goose seaplane, which only had one flight. The region served as home base for a number of secretive military projects, such as the U-2 spy plane, the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane and the B-2 stealth bomber.

Now, another unusual aircraft is taking shape in Southern California — the Stratolaunch Systems giant rocket-carrying aircraft.

First announced in 2011, the giant plane is designed to air-launch satellites into orbit. It is expected to have a wingspan of 385 feet — longer than any plane every built — and is being constructed in Mojave, Calif., by Vulcan Aerospace, a Seattle company backed by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen.

Take a look at some of the other unconventional aircraft and spacecraft that have roots in Southern California.

DC-3 airliner

The DC-3 airliner was built in Santa Monica by the Douglas Aircraft Co. in the 1930s and 1940s. The aircraft was the country’s first reliable passenger plane and revolutionized commercial air travel.

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June 23, 10:52 a.m.: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the DC-3 airliner was built in Long Beach. It was built in Santa Monica.


(Los Angeles Times)

Spruce Goose

The Hughes H-4 Hercules, better known as the Spruce Goose, was built in Playa Vista by Howard Hughes’ Aircraft Co. The transport seaplane only had one flight, in 1947.

(Larry Bessel / Los Angeles Times)

U-2 spy plane

The U-2 spy plane was built in Burbank at Lockheed Corp.’s secretive Skunk Works facility.  The plane has played a key role in U.S. intelligence gathering since its first flight in 1955.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

X-15 rocket plane

The X-15 rocket plane was built in Downey by North American. The plane, which set altitude and speed records in the 1960s, demonstrated that a winged aircraft could fly to and from space.

(Getty Images)

SR-71 Blackbird spy plane

The SR-71 Blackbird spy plane was built in Burbank at Lockheed Corp.’s Skunk Works starting in the 1960s. The high-altitude jet set a record in 1990 for its cross-country flight from Los Angeles to Dulles International Airport, near Washington, in 68 minutes and 17 seconds.

(Associated Press)

Night Hawk

The F-117 stealth fighter/bomber, also known as the Night Hawk, was built in the 1980s in Burbank by Lockheed Corp.’s Skunk Works. After the introduction of the stealthier F-22 in 2006, the Pentagon retired its fleet of F-117s.

(U.S. Defense Department)

Space Shuttle

The Space Shuttle was built in Downey by Rockwell International. The reusable spacecraft first took flight in 1981.

(Richard Derk / Los Angeles Times)


The Voyager was built in Mojave by Dick Rutan, Jeana Yeager and others. The plane was constructed of hardened paper and graphite fiber and weighed only 939 pounds. In 1986, it completed the first nonstop, unrefueled flight around the world.

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For the Record

June 22, 5:06 p.m.: An earlier version of this article stated that Voyager was built by Scaled Composites. It was built by pilots Dick Rutan, Jeana Yeager and others.


(Douglas Pizac / Associated Press)

B-2 stealth bomber

The B-2 stealth bomber, which first flew in 1989, was built in Palmdale by Northrop Corp. The plane is virtually undetectable by radar.

(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Predator drone

The MQ-1 Predator drone was built in Hacienda Heights and Poway by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems starting in the mid-1990s.

(Kirsty Wigglesworth / Associated Press)


The SpaceShipTwo civilian spacecraft was built in Mojave by aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites LLC for Virgin Galactic. SpaceShipTwo was intended to take paying customers into space, but an early version broke apart during a test flight in 2014.

(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Aeros 40D Sky Dragon

The Aeros 40D Sky Dragon heavy-lift zeppelin was built in Tustin by Igor Pasternak’s Worldwide Aeros Corp. A version of the airship was sold to Grupo Toyan, a Mexican company that intended to use it to monitor oil pipelines.

(Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

Hybrid Airship

The blimp-like Hybrid Airship heavy-lift aircraft is being built in Palmdale by Lockheed Martin Corp.  

(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

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