Largest Planes In The World. Photo: Knowinsiders.
Largest Planes In The World. Photo: Knowinsiders.

What are the largest planes in the world?

The marvel of flight never ceases to amaze, and the spectacle is that much more unbelievable when the aircraft are longer than Olympic swimming pools, heavier than the world's biggest tanks, and taller than 5-story buildings. It's amazing these big boys can even get off the ground.

Here are the biggest planes in the world flying today:

1. Airbus A380

2. Boeing 747-8

3. Boeing 777-9

4. Antonov An-225

5. Antonov An-124

6. Lockheed C-5 Galaxy

7. Airbus Beluga XL

8. Boeing Dreamlifter

9. Hughes H-4 Hercules

10. Stratolaunch

1. Airbus A380-800

Top 9 Largest Planes In The World
The A380 is an amazing development, but sadly facing challenges. Photo: Getty Images

The Airbus A380 800 is a passenger plane made in France with capacity for 853 passengers in a single class or 644 in a two-tiered class. It has a travel range of 8,208 nautical miles or 15,200 kilometers. It first took flight on 27 April, 2005. As of 30 September 2020, 242 aircraft have been manufactured, however, due to poor sales, Airbus announced A380-800 retirement in 2021. With 114 A380s in its fleet and eight pending delivery, Emirates is currently the main operator of A380 and intends to stay one in the future.

Before the pandemic, the world’s fleet of approximately 250 Airbus A380s reportedly made 330 flights per day, with services to more than 70 destinations. However, on April 27, 2020, the 15th anniversary of the first A380 flight, just one A380 was up in the air – a China Southern flight from Los Angeles to Guangzhou, according to Flightradar24.

Some airlines are grounding their A380 fleets for the duration of the pandemic, while others are retiring them. Air France was one of the first to announce the retirement of its entire fleet of A380s. In the summer of 2020, Qantas confirmed that its fleet of 12 Airbus A380s would remain grounded for the next three years. Etihad Airways’ A380s future is also in doubt, since the airline confirmed the grounding of its superjumbos until at least the Winter 2021.

2. Boeing 747-8

Top 9 Largest Planes In The World
Photo: aerotime.

The 747 is, of course, the other very large passenger jet. The latest 747-8 is the largest version offered, coming in just over three meters longer than the A380. But it has a lower maximum capacity of 605 (again, this is the maximum exit limit, with a typical capacity around 450). It also has a much shorter wingspan (68.4 meters compared to 79.95 meters), which has been a benefit as it increases the number of airports at which it can operate.

Until the A380, the 747 was the largest passenger aircraft flying. This has been its hallmark since its launch in 1968. It was developed in collaboration with Pan American World Airways (Pan Am). The airline had seen success with the 707 and wanted to take this further with a new aircraft over twice the size. It was, in fact, originally planned with a full-length upper deck, but this could not be made to work with safety requirements.

Boeing 747-8 family of aircraft includes the 747-8 intercontinental in passenger and VIP variants and the 747-8 freighter aircraft. 107 orders for Boeing 747-8 intercontinental and Boeing 747-8 freighter aircraft were received as of December 2009.

The aircraft uses many of the technologies developed for the 787 Dreamliner, including the engines, interior configuration, flight deck technologies and instrumentation and wing configuration. These provide significant increases in passenger and freighter capabilities, improved fuel efficiency, reduced noise and emissions and improved operating economics.

The first flight of the 747-8 freighter was completed in February 2010. The maiden flight of the 747-8 intercontinental was completed in March 2011.

3. Boeing B-52 Stratofortress

Top 9 Largest Planes In The World
Photo: Getty.

The B-52 entered service in 1955, and the first B-52H, the current model, debuted in 1961. The B-52 bomber is the grandfather of the air force: aging, but still capable of delivering a serious punch.

The BUFF can carry 70,000 pounds of weapons, from precision-guided conventional bombs to nuclear warheads. While the B-2 stealth bomber and B-1 supersonic bomber could be retired when the B-21 is introduced, the Air Force wants to outfit the reliable B-52 with new engines to improve efficiency and range.

While the giant bomber enters its sixth decade of service, the technology within its hold is ever-evolving, as the Air Force is also planning to equip the B-52 with the Long Range Stand Off missile, a stealthy nuclear cruise missile.

4. Antonov An-225

Photo: VASILIY KOBA/WIKIMEDIA
Photo: VASILIY KOBA/WIKIMEDIA

By most metrics, the Antonov An-225 is the biggest plane in the world. The Antonov Design Bureau in Ukrainian SSR built just one of these monster cargo aircraft. Antonov designed it to carry the Buran spaceplane (the Soviet version of the space shuttle) as well as Energia rocket boosters, but the plane quickly found other airlifting work after being refurbished following the collapse of the Soviet space program.

The An-225 is the heaviest aircraft ever built, with a maximum takeoff weight of 710 tons. It holds the record for total airlifted payload at 559,580 pounds, as well as airlifted single-item payload at 418,830 pounds. It has the longest wingspan of any plane currently flying at 290 feet, and six freakin' engines.

Moving away from passenger jets, one of the largest aircraft you will ever see flying is the Antonov An-225 freighter. Only of these is operational, although a second remains partially built. This is the heaviest aircraft ever built and has the widest wingspan of any operational aircraft. It also has six engines and 32 wheels!

In 2020, the hulking aircraft joined the global fight against COVID-19, when it took to the skies to deliver supplies to countries around the world whose resources were stretched by the pandemic.

It was originally launched in 1971 to transport the USSR’s equivalent of the Space Shuttle, known as Buran. The shuttle would be carried on top of the aircraft, and parts of the rocket could fit into the large fuselage. It can carry the highest payload of any aircraft – an enormous 250 tonnes (for comparison, the 747-8F freighter aircraft can carry up to 136 tonnes). As such, it has remained in service and seen some specialized uses.

5. Antonov An-124

Top 9 Largest Planes In The World
The An-124 is regularly used for cargo charters. Photo: Antonov Airlines

Sticking with the same manufacturer, the An-124 is smaller than the An-225 but is one of the largest commercially developed freighters. It launched in 1982, and 55 aircraft have been built. Until the 747-8 was introduced, it was the heaviest commercially produced aircraft.

As of April 2021, 33 An-124 aircraft remain in use (according to data from planespotters.net). Seven of these are operated by Ukrainian airline Antonov Airlines, 12 by Russian airline Volga-Dnepr and one by each of Libyan Air Cargo and UAE-based Maximus Air Cargo. They regularly see unusual cargo operations, such as transporting Maglev trains from Germany to China.

The Antonov An-124 is a large military transport aircraft developed by the Antonov Design Bureau in the Soviet Union. It is powered by six turbofan engines and designed to deliver heavy cargo, equipment and personnel. With its ability to carry up to 150 tons of cargo over short distances, it can be used for many purposes from humanitarian relief efforts to commercial freight deliveries.

6. Lockheed C-5 Galaxy

Top 9 Largest Planes In The World
131 C-5 Galaxy aircraft were built, and many remain in service with the US Air Force. Photo: US Air Force via Wikimedia

The Lockheed C-5 Galaxy is a large military transport aircraft originally designed and built by Lockheed, and now maintained and upgraded by its successor, Lockheed Martin. It provides the United States Air Force (USAF) with a heavy intercontinental-range strategic airlift capability, one that can carry outsized and oversized loads, including all air-certifiable cargo. The Galaxy has many similarities to the smaller Lockheed C-141 Starlifter and the later Boeing C-17 Globemaster III. The C-5 is among the largest military aircraft in the world.

The C-5 Galaxy's development was complicated, including significant cost overruns, and Lockheed suffered significant financial difficulties. Shortly after entering service, cracks in the wings of many aircraft were discovered and the C-5 fleet was restricted in capability until corrective work was completed. The C-5M Super Galaxy is an upgraded version with new engines and modernized avionics designed to extend its service life beyond 2040.

Lockheed won the competition to develop and build the super-sized transport in 1965. The requirements were daunting. The transport needed to have a maximum take-off weight more than twice that of the C-141, Lockheed’s prior entry in military transport aircraft. Lockheed rose to the challenge, delivering the first plane to the U.S. Air Force in 1970. It was one of the world’s largest military aircraft with a cargo compartment five times as large as that of the C-141—big enough to hold four Sheridan light tanks or a Chinook helicopter. Uniquely, the C-5’s nose section swung up to enable double rows of vehicles to drive straight through the aircraft.

At just over 75 meters long, it is bigger than the A380 and the An-124. It can carry a payload of 127 tonnes and adds inflight refueling for a huge range. It remains in active service with the US Air Force, although several large transports have followed it. The Boeing C-17 Globemaster is a leading example – it’s big but not as big as the C-5.

Interestingly, Lockheed was also interested in an even larger replacement. The so-called VLST (Very Large Subsonic Transport) was proposed in the 1990s but never developed. A passenger version would have two decks, four aisles and carry up to 900 passengers.

7. Airbus Beluga XL

Top 9 Largest Planes In The World
Airbus will have a fleet of six Beluga XL aircraft. Photo: Airbus

Airbus launched the BelugaXL in late 2014 as a new super transporter supporting the A350 ramp-up and other production rate increases. By the end of 2023, six BelugaXLs – derived from the company’s versatile A330 widebody aircraft – will replace the current BelugaST fleet.

The BelugaXL performed its maiden flight in 2018, and received the type certification in November 2019 from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) airworthiness authority. This paved the way for the first BelugaXL’s service entry in January 2020.

As with the BelugaST, the BelugaXL fleet will operate across 11 destinations in Europe, continuing to strengthen Airbus’ industrial capabilities and enabling the company to meet its production and delivery commitments.

Technically, the Beluga XL is not an aircraft type but a modification of the Airbus A330. As such, some may question whether it should appear on such a list. But however you treat it, it is one of the largest aircraft you will see regularly flying. By volume, it is the largest. It offers a fuselage volume of 2,209 cubic meters. For comparison, Boeing’s Dreamlifter comes in behind at 1,840 cubic meters.

8. Boeing Dreamlifter

Top 9 Largest Planes In The World
A Boeing 747-400LCF Dreamlifter aircraft. cpaulfell / Shutterstock.com

The Dreamlifter is one of the largest cargo planes flying thanks to its oversized fuselage, built to aid 787 Dreamliner production and part transport.Boeing's Dreamlifter was originally intended to transport parts such as wings and fuselages for the 787 Dreamliner, the next-generation twin-engine wide-body produced by Boeing that revolutionized air travel when it debuted.

Boeing originally announced the Dreamlifter back in the early 2000s. Of course, the aerospace manufacturing company encountered several hurdles when designing the wide-body cargo jet. In 2003, for instance, Boeing discovered that the 787 parts were too large for the Dreamlifter, so it began using parts from 747-400 instead. After rigorous testing and certification, Boeing officially introduced the Dreamlifter in 2008.

With an estimated program cost of $1 billion, the Dreamlifter isn’t cheap by any means. However, it boasts some impressive specifications and features that make it an attractive choice for commercial airlines in need of a cargo jet. In terms of size, the Dreamlifter measures over 235 feet long and 70 feet tall. It also has a maximum takeoff weight of over 803,000 pounds as well as a cruising speed of Mach 0.82.

Because of its massive size, as well as cost, Boeing has only manufactured four Dreamlifter units thus far. Three of the Dreamlifters were completed in 2008, whereas the fourth was completed in 2010.

As shown in the adjacent image, the Boeing Dreamlifter is a wide-body cargo jet. It has approximately 65,000 cubic feet of cargo space, offering a substantial amount of storage space for commercial airlines. To put the size of its cargo hold into perspective, the Dreamlifter can transport up to three times the volume of cargo than a traditional 747-100F jet.

9. Stratolaunch

Top 9 Largest Planes In The World
Photo: indiatimes.

Paul Allen's Stratolaunch certainly is a monster plane. The composite six-engine, twin-fuselage aircraft has the longest wingspan in the world: 385 feet from tip to tip. If you placed Stratolaunch on a football field, the wings would extend through the goalposts an extra 12.5 feet on both sides. The Stratolaunch plane, powered by six huge Pratt & Whitney turbofan engines, the aircraft is intended to carry up to 550,000 pounds to an altitude of 35,000 feet.

The aircraft is designed to carry rockets up into the stratosphere and drop them, where they would then launch to space. The alternative to conventional rocket launches could conserve some of the fuel needed to overcome all of Earth's gravity from sea level into orbit, and launch small rockets at a rapid pace. (Stratolaunch could carry as many as three small launch vehicles at a time.) Virgin Orbit is working on a similar plan to launch rockets using a 747-400.

In 2018, Stratolaunch conducted low-speed and high-speed runway tests—the first time it moved under the power of its six Pratt & Whitney turbofans. A year later, it took to the skies for its first test flight. The 2.5-hour flight was a sight to be seen. With initial goals of building an aircraft for launching satellites mid-air, the company’s new owners who bought Stratolaunch in October 2019, shifted the immediate vision for the behemoth plane to be a launch platform for hypersonic vehicles that travel five times faster than the speed of sound.

The world’s largest airplane, longer than a football field, has completed its second test flight from Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The Stratolaunch is designed to transport hypersonic vehicles and facilitate easy access to space.
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