On March 19, 2022, Plane Crazy Saturday at the Mojave Air and Space Port featured Mason Hutchison, Stratolaunch’s chief mechanical engineer.
Plane Crazy Saturday is sponsored monthly by the Mojave Transportation Museum.
Hutchison is a graduate of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology and has worked in the aerospace industry for 16 years.
He began his engineering career at Ball Aerospace. Working on the Airborne Laser program, he focused on the material interaction of laser engagement. It was a lifelong interest in experimental aviation design that later drew him to Scaled Composites. It was there that he gained experience designing, building and testing the SpaceShip2 feather deployment system. Soon after, he completed the WhiteKnight2 landing gear design and release system and saw them go through flight testing.
From there, Hutchison led the flight control design team on the Stratolaunch aircraft. Currently, Hutchison works for Stratolaunch as the lead release system engineer for the Talon hypersonic unmanned system.
Hutchison said, “I came on board to design the mechanical flight control system and have been here since the first roll of carbon fiber fabric came out to build the plane, until today,”
“I had actually left Scaled Composites and moved to Minden, Nevada, to find another dream, but something brought me back to Mojave,” Hutchison said. “There was a Plane Crazy event and my friends called and said, ‘Come and join us for Plane Crazy,’ so I drove to Mojave, nine hours from Minden.” When he came to Mojave, he found out the real reason his friends wanted him to come to Mojave. His friends said, “Guess what? We need help designing and building the mechanical flight controls for this plane, are you interested in helping? »
Hutchison replied, “I have never designed flight controls for an airplane. I’m in!” The room burst out laughing.
“I’m interested in landing gear,” Hutchison said. “I made the White Knight landing gear and there were four landing gears.”
“I led a team of engineers and we designed the entire wiring system from the cockpit to the aircraft,” Hutchison explained. “There’s almost a quarter mile of steel cable in that plane.”
As he began showing pictures of the insanely huge Stratolaunch plane, he said: ‘I’ve been with this plane for all four flights, every taxi test and every test in the hangar. There’s so much testing going on with this aircraft, outside of flight testing.
Originally from New Mexico, Hutchison is an aviation enthusiast of full-scale and radio-controlled models. He is a founder and active member of the Tehachapi Crosswinds, a local radio control club. He was an active member of the team that organized the Indoor Fly-In in the Event Center here at Mojave Air and Space Port.
He showed a photo of a model airplane he had built and said, “I sent this photo to Scaled Composites as a resume. They get resumes with lots of words all the time. I wanted to show them something they would remember,” Hutchison said. “I always wanted to move to California and work at Scaled Composites. Matt Stinemetz hired me and Burt Rutan never looked at my resume or asked about my average. He wanted to know what I had built. J took a portfolio of everything I had done and my resume was swiped across the table and my portfolio was the only thing that was ever considered to get this job.
He posed the question he thought was on everyone’s mind: “What is it and why did we build this incredibly large plane in one dimension and what is it going to do? be used?” He replied, “The story has changed somewhat over time. It’s been 10 years since we laid the very first piece.
“First and foremost, what is it? He gave a simple answer: “It’s a big giant plane that’s meant to carry a payload. It flies far, it flies slow, it carries large objects, it carries heavy objects, and it will drop those objects.
He answered the question why two fuselages – because the payload must be in the middle between the two fuselages. “There’s about 90 feet between the two fuselages, which provides a ton of utility,” Hutchison said.
Stratolaunch’s first flight, Scaled Model 351, was on April 13, 2019, during Plane Crazy Saturday Mojave’s experimental Fly-In. Stratolaunch is no longer part of Scaled Composites and is a stand-alone business.
Hutchison showed photos showing size comparisons with people on the wing under construction.
“We can’t talk about Stratolaunch without talking about dimensions,” Hutchison said. “It’s big! The 385-foot wingspan makes it 64 feet longer than the H-4 Hercules or Spruce Goose,
“The plane is, on paper, designed to carry 550,000 pounds of payload,” Hutchison explained. “You don’t just design something to carry that kind of payload and then have it fly so heavy from the get-go. We haven’t flown that heavy yet.
Mission duration is two to eight hours, but Hutchison said pilots aren’t eager to fly an eight-hour mission.
Hutchison pointed out that the straight, flat fender is something modelers are familiar with. However, the last 65 feet of the Stratolaunch wing has 3 degrees of dihedral or polyhedral. “It has the look of the glider designs of the era,” Hutchison said.
“By wingspan, Stratolaunch, or Roc, is the largest airplane in the world,” Hutchison said. “But, per maximum gross takeoff weight, it’s number two. The AN-225 can lift more.
He was explaining other ways Roc outperforms other planes. “The wing spar is the largest piece ever made of carbon fiber at 260 feet long,” Hutchison explained. “Another record is that it’s vinyl wrapped, it’s not painted. So maybe more square meters of vinyl used for an airplane.
Getting back to the “why” of this gigantic plane, Hutchison said. “First, we’re in hypersonic and you’re going to see that here at Mojave. There’s a race for this country to go hypersonic.
“Stratolaunch’s mission is to build this unmanned Talon A vehicle that will be launched over the Pacific Ocean,” Hutchison said. Talon-A is a flexible, high-speed test bed designed for hypersonic research, experiments and operational missions. The vehicle will be 8.5 meters long with a wingspan of 3.4 meters and a total mass of approximately 2.7 tonnes at launch. It will be dropped by its mothership, Stratolaunch.
Hutchison showed the audience how a launch would be performed by the Stratolaunch aircraft. “We were taking off from Mojave with the Talon A attached, going over the Pacific Ocean and jettisoning the Talon A. There’s plenty of fuel to hang around while the Talon A accomplishes its hypersonic mission with customer instruments at board,” Hutchison explained. . “Now here’s the cool part, Talon A will have completed his mission, returned to Mojave and will be in the hangar, by the time Stratolaunch returns to land in Mojave.”
During Hutchison’s presentation, he reiterated how impressed he was that parts and systems from the donor’s 747 aircraft could be reused in the construction of Stratolaunch. Not only the landing gear and engines, but the cockpit windows were placed in both Stratolaunch fuselages. Many other parts were also harvested from the 747, including yokes, rudder pedals, control seat rails, cockpit cabin floors and instrument panels.
Hutchison showed a drawing illustrating the complexity of Stratolaunch’s systems. “There are four hydraulic systems, almost a quarter of a statute mile of control cable. Each engine is equipped with an air-driven hydraulic pump, an engine-driven hydraulic pump, and an electric-driven hydraulic pump, together providing over two hundred total horsepower of hydraulic service to the flight controls, undercarriage landing and braking systems. Each motor provides electrical power which is pumped into two huge power bus systems which meet in the center of the wing.
“It is not possible to access the fuselage or transport through the wing in flight,” Hutchison said. “Pilots are sequestered only in the right forward cabin pressure vessel and cannot actually transfer into the fuselage during flight. But, that being said, you cannot walk through the wing either.
Hutchison also shared photographs of the giant plane just before the first flight, while it was in the hangar that was specially built for it in 2011. The fighter plane, a Cessna Citation is nestled under the rock wing.
Hutchison answered many questions during the presentation, and people stayed to visit after the briefing was over. Some people wanted to know why the plane seemed so quiet when flying and everyone wanted to know when the next test flight would be. It’s always a spectacular sight to see from the air.
Mojave Transportation Museum President Cathy Hansen presented Hutchison with a Plane Crazy Saturday hat and Voyager 35th Anniversary shirt as thanks for his fantastic presentation.