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These are the 15 Biggest Planes in the World

Boeing 747-8

Boeing 747-8 / Photo courtesy of Boeing

Airplanes are without any doubt the most impressive engineering achievements of our world. Following the incessant desire to take to the skies, humans have designed flying machines that could soar higher and fly faster than the previous, in a race that will most probably never see an end.

But as with anything in life, often times, the “bigger is better” saying wins over and people seek out to create bigger and bigger planes, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible.

From the first winged machine that took flight in the early years of the 20th century to the incredible Antonov An-225 Mriya that was recently destroyed during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, aviation has come a long way in a little over 100 years.

Now seen as the safest and fastest means of transport, the aviation industry has been pushed by both globalization and commercial demand to create bigger and more high-tech airplanes. Technology has evolved so much that flying a gigantic airplane today is easier than flying smaller aircrafts in the past.

The biggest planes of our days can be taller than five story buildings, longer than a football field, and capable of airlifting hundreds of tons from one corner of the world to the other.

But big is a subjective matter, especially when talking about airplanes, because there are several factors at play here. There’s length, weight, volume, and width – or wingspan, to use an aviation term, so several ways to measure large aircraft.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) for example call large aircrafts those aircrafts with a maximum take-off weight of more than 5,700 kg.

So don’t take our ranking of the biggest planes in the world to heart. With so many ways to measure large aircraft, there is no correct answer. If you judge by one parameter alone, you might get a different ranking. We strived to take all these parameters into account, and here’s our conclusion:

15. Tupolev Tu-160 Blackjack

Tupolev Tu-160 Blackjack

Tupolev Tu-160 / Photo by Alex Beltyukov / wikipedia.org

The Tupolev Tu-160, Blackjack in NATO designation, is one of the marvels of Soviet era aviation. It’s a supersonic strategic bomber with variable geometry swing-wing design, able to change it’s wing shape mid-flight in order to become faster or carry more weight.

It’s the fastest and heaviest strategic bomber ever created, powered by four Kuznetsov NK-32 turbofan engines, capable of reaching a top speed of over Mach 2 (twice the speed of sound). The first flight for the Tu-160 took place on December 18th, 1981. From a total of 36 ever built, there are only 16 known to be operational today, all of them serving the Russian Aerospace forces.

The wingspan of this aircraft is 55.7 m, or 183 ft, and has a max takeoff weight of a whooping 606,271 pounds.

Recently the aircraft has been revived, with the first new Tu-160M2 aircrafts to be delivered sometime in 2023.

14. McDonnell Douglas KC-10 Extender

McDonnell Douglas KC-10 Extender

U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jerry Morrison / wikipedia.org

The McDonnell Douglas KC-10 Extender serves as a tanker aircraft for aerial refueling. It’s the largest aircraft of its type in the world, with a wingspan of 164 ft, and capable of taking 52,520 gallons onboard. You can’t grasp that number, can you?

The airplane serves the US Air Force and the Royal Netherlands Air Force. Fuel is transported in three main wing tanks, and several large fuel tanks under the cargo floor. In full cargo configuration, it can haul as much as 85 tons.

13. Antonov An-22

Antonov An-22

Antonov An-22 / antonov.com

Another Russian heavy hauler, the Antonov An-22 is the world’s largest turboprop aircraft. It’s a strategic airlifter that has been used numerous times in missions during the Soviet era, carrying airborne troops, infantry fighting vehicles or various other cargo. Nowadays, only 6 out of the total of 68 built continue to be fully operational.

The engines feature contra-rotating propellers, allowing the aircraft to operate from short and unpaved runways, which gives it a strategic advantage. Though there was a proposition for a civilian version that could carry up to 724 passengers, the idea never came to fruition.

12. Boeing C-17 Globemaster III

Boeing C-17 Globemaster III

Boeing C-17 Globemaster III / Photo by U.S. Air Force / wikipedia.org

The C-17 Globemaster III made by McDonnell Douglas and Boeing is the main workhorse of the United States Air Force, with a capacity of 85.5 tons of cargo. Since its introduction in 1991, it flew countless of tactical and strategic airlift missions around the globe transporting troops and various cargo, airdropping materials and equipment, or performing medevac duties.

With a maximum take-off weight of around 265,350 kg, the C-17 is able to carry heavy military machinery, including the M1 Abrams main battle tank, infantry fighting vehicles, artillery pieces, and even up to 3 AH-64 Apache helicopters. It can carry over 130 fully equipped soldiers, or 102 airborne troops.

There were a total of 279 built and it serves several air forces around the world, including the United States Air Force, the Royal Air Force, the Royal Australian Air Force, the Royal Canadian Air Force, and other states.

11. Boeing 777-9

Boeing 777-9

Boeing 777-9 / lufthansagroup.com

The largest and longest twin-engine commercial aircraft, Boeing 777-9, can carry up to 425 passengers around the world. The airplane had its first flight in January 2020, but the company has delayed its first delivery until 2025.

Based on the success of the previous 777 generations, the much improved 777-9 will features new technologies, including retractable wingtips and two of the most powerful engines to ever be equipped on a commercial aircraft, the General Electric GE9X. To get an idea, one such engine is as wide as the fuselage of a 737.

10. Ilyushin Il-76

Ilyushin Il-76

Ilyushin Il-76 / Photo by Karunakar Rayker / wikipedia.org

Part of the great Soviet era aircrafts, the Ilyushin Il-76 is a long range transport airplane with a capacity of up to 50 tons in cargo only configuration or up 140 troops in troop transport config.

The aircraft came to life in 1971 and was designed to withstand extreme conditions, with a short take off and landing capability on both paved and unpaved runways, plus it can easily handle extreme weather conditions like the one in Siberia or the Arctic regions.

With over 800 produced, the Il-76 served as the backbone of the Soviet Airlift Command during the Cold War era. The aircraft continues its service even today in several countries.

9. Boeing B-52 Stratofortress

Boeing B-52 Stratofortress

Boeing B-52 Stratofortress / Photo by Airman 1st Class Victor J. Caputo / wikipedia.org

Despite being among the oldest aircrafts in service, which it began back in 1955, the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress is still in use today in the United States Air Force. It’s a very capable aircraft, with a huge capacity of 70,000 pounds of weapons, from conventional bombs and precision guided munitions to cruise missiles and nuclear warheads.

The BUFF (Big Ugly Fat Fucker) as it was nicknamed, will continue to see action in the coming years, since the plan is to upgrade it with newer and more efficient engines, increasing also its autonomy and range.

In addition to that, the six decade old strategic bomber will be equipped with the stealth nuclear cruise missile, called the LRSO (Long Range Stand-Off missile).

8. Boeing 747-8

Boeing 747-8

Boeing 747-8 / lufthansagroup.com

Boeing’s 747-8 is the latest version of one of the most iconic and largest passenger jets in operation today. It’s just 3 meters longer than the Airbus’s A380, but has an overall lower maximum take-off capacity, making it second largest after the A380.

The 747-8 is operated by many popular long-haul airlines, for both passenger and cargo flights.

Compared to its previous iterations, the 747-8 features redesigned wings, a lengthened fuselage, and more powerful engines.

Known as the largest passenger aircraft in the US and the second-largest passenger aircraft in the world, it’s no wonder it was nicknamed the “flying fortress” by the former president of the United States, Donald Trump.

7. Antonov An-124 Ruslan

Antonov An-124 Ruslan

Antonov An-124 Ruslan / Photo by Jojo / wikipedia.org

The Antonov An-124 Ruslan, Condor in NATO designation, is currently the largest production military aircraft in the world. It entered service in the Soviet Air Forces back in 1987, and it’s still in service today with the Russian Air Force, flying airlift missions in various areas of the world.

It also used to be the largest and heaviest cargo aircraft in the world until 2011, when it was overtaken by the 747-8F.

The capacity of the An-124 is an incredible 165 tons, larger than the C-5 Galaxy of the USAF, but lacks in range.

6. Lockheed C-5 Galaxy

Lockheed C-5 Galaxy

U.S. Air Force photo by Brett Snow / wikipedia.org

The Lockheed C-5 Galaxy is the largest military transport aircraft used by the United States Air Force. It’s got a payload capacity of 118 tons, with plenty of space to carry 2 M1 Abrams main battle tanks, 16 HMMWVs, various other military vehicles, or even 3 MH-60 Black Hawk helicopters or 7 UH-1 Huey.

The C-5 has a 7,000 mile range, making it the military airlift aircraft with the longest-range in the world. Its length of just a little bit over 75 meters puts it ahead of the Airbus A380 and the Antonov An-124 in the length department.

In terms of troop transport, the aircraft’s upper deck could hold up to 73 passengers, and the lower deck up to 270 troops. While it was possible to drop paratroops, it was never used in airdrop missions.

5. Airbus Beluga XL

Airbus Beluga XL

Airbus Beluga XL / Photo by Julien Jeany / wikipedia.org

Looking like a flying whale – the paintjob really helps in that regard, the Airbus Beluga XL went into its first operational flight in 2020. It’s Airbus’s flying monster capable of hauling some of the biggest things all over the world.

The length is only 206 feet, or 62.7 meters, but it’s got the largest cross section of any cargo aircraft in the world, which makes it gigantic and able to carry two wings of the massive A350 XWB.

Technically a modified version of the A330, the Beluga XL was built primarily to haul aircraft components for Airbus.

4. Airbus A380-800

Airbus A380-800

Airbus A380-800 / Photo by Maarten Visser / wikipedia.org

The Airbus A380-800 is the largest passenger aircraft the world has ever known. It’s the European variant and main competitor of the Boeing 747, having a total capacity of 853 passengers – largest than any other plane in history, and the ability to fly them on some of the longest routes around the globe.

It’s a double deck aircraft, with a wingspan of 79.8 meters and a length of 72.7, and it’s powered by 4 jet engines. Though the pandemic almost killed its ambition with many airlines struggling, the A380 was brought back into service when air travel demand increased again. The most successful fleet of A380s is that of the Emirates.

3. Boeing 747 Dreamlifter

Boeing 747 Dreamlifter

Boeing 747 Dreamlifter / aerotime.aero

The Boeing 747 Dreamlifter is, like the Beluga XL, a modified fuselage version of an existing aircraft, the 747-400.

Its mission is also similar as the Beluga’s, and that’s to carry Boeing 787 parts from various parts of the world to the final assembly facilities in the United States.

The Dreamlifter entered service in 2007, and the fleet counts only 4 today. It’s longer than the Beluga XL, and can take a higher payload.

2. Aero Spacelines Super Guppy

NASA’s B377SGT Super Guppy Turbine

NASA’s B377SGT Super Guppy Turbine / Photo by Tom Tschida / wikipedia.org

Primarily used by NASA during the Apollo program to carry rocket components and stages, the Aero Spacelines Super Guppy is an immense aircraft built from a ballooned fuselage from the Boeing C-97 Stratofreighter.

The Super Guppy was replaced by the Beluga for the most part, with NASA being the last ones to keep it in service. Only 5 planes were built in total, in two versions, one made from the fuselage of the C-97, and the second variant made from scratch and allowing for more cargo space.

1. Stratolaunch Roc

Stratolaunch Roc

Stratolaunch Roc / stratolaunch.com

One of the weirdest looking planes in existence today is the Stratolaunch Roc. Designed and built for the sole purpose of carrying rockets into the stratosphere, from where they would launch into space, the Stratolaunch is a six engine beast that looks like two separate airplanes tied together.

It’s called a twin-fuselage aircraft for that exact matter. That’s also the reason it’s got the largest wingspan in history, reaching 117 meters, or 383 feet, longer than a football field.

Honorable mention: the Antonov An-225 Mriya

Antonov An-225 Mriya

Antonov An-225 Mriya / Photo by Mark Steven / wikipedia.org

Recently destroyed in the war in Ukraine, the Antonov An-225 Mriya used to be the largest airplane in existence, a unique feat of Soviet era aerospace engineering.

A gigantic six engine aircraft, the only one of its kind, could airlift an incredible 247 tons. If still holds the world record for airlifting a 189,980 kg item. Construction for a second one started but it was never completed due to extremely high costs.

The An-225’s original purpose was to carry the Buran spaceplane – the Soviet alternative of NASA’s space shuttle. After the fall of the USSR, the An-225 was used for other airlifting missions around the world, including the delivery of a pair of 42.1 meter long test wind turbine blades from China to Denmark back in 2010.

Final Thoughts

These are the greatest feats of aviation of our world until present day. The biggest airplanes mankind was able to design and build, impressing everyone with their airlifting abilities.

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