Biggest, longest, heaviest, and more: here are the largest airplanes in the world

How does that even fly? The biggest planes ever built defy belief

Biggest largest planes in the world Boeing 747 8
The biggest airplanes in the world are strange, beautiful monsters. They’re built for weird purposes, end up in odd jobs, and belong to a tight circle where each project is more impressive than the last. The result? A bunch of really awesome, giant airplanes for us to explore! From the newest entrant in 2017 to historical planes that still impress us today, here’s a quick rundown of the largest planes in the world, along with some fun facts about each one.

The Stratolaunch, funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, was immediately hailed as the world’s largest airplane when construction finished in 2017. That title is a bit debatable though, because if you take an extra-long tape measure and look at the dimensions, some other planes are actually a bit longer from tip to tail. But the Stratolaunch does win in several other categories: It has the longest total wingspan thanks to the double-cockpit setup, and it’s designed to carry more weight than any other plane in existence — up to 500,000 pounds.

That last part is particularly important, because Allen’s intention is to use the Stratolaunch to send rockets into orbit around the earth (though it’s not yet certain how practical this is). That’s why the plane comes equipped with six Boeing 747 engines and an incredible wingspan of 385 feet. The Stratolaunch is so new that it will require considerable testing before experts are sure just how to fly it correctly.

Photo: Stratolaunch Systems Corp.

The Stratolaunch

Another plane that carries the title of the “biggest plane in the world,” the Antonov is actually a throwback, designed and built back in the 1980s by the Soviet Union. Its goal was quite similar to the Stratolaunch’s, with a plan to carry a space shuttle up through the atmosphere and into orbit. That didn’t pan out, but the Antonov aircraft did find another calling: carrying really heavy stuff to countries around the world. You may recognize this one-of-a-kind airplane by its famous twin tails.

With its six engines and 290-foot wingspan, the craft can carry emergency supplies and massive loads that would be very difficult for other airplanes to carry. It only flies a couple times a year these days, but still sees regular work and continues to hold the world record for carrying the heaviest payload: a 247-ton load of oil pipeline materials. We’ll see how long that record can hold with the aforementioned Stratolaunch on the scene.

Photo: Alex Beltyukov/Wikipedia

The Antonov An-225 (Mriya)

Here’s a blast from the past! The famous Spruce Goose still holds a spot as one of the biggest airplanes in the world, which is even more impressive when you remember that it was constructed of wood (birchwood, actually, despite the name) and completed in 1947 thanks to the ambitious dreams of Howard Hughes. The plane’s length stretches to 210 feet, and it was built to carry 150,000 pounds for troop and material transport in World War II — without today’s high tech gadgetry, like autopilot, to help out.

That plan didn’t work out: The Hughes H-4 took a long time to build, and by the time it was finished, the war was wrapping up and no one really needed it. Hughes, determined to pilot the craft at least once, took it up in the air and flew it for around a minute before bring the plane back down, presumably satisfied. Now it sits at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, which says that the plan is still in good shape.

Photo: SDASM Archives/Flickr

The Hughes H-4 Hercules (Spruce Goose)

Let’s turn to a commercial model: This Airbus is huge, but it’s also meant for passenger flights. The 4-motor carrier is nearly 239 feet long for extra capacity and has a wingspan of 262 feet. Its most unique feature is a large double deck that allows it to house two levels of seats and accomodate up to 555 passengers (early models actually allowed for a different configuration that could fit far more people, but far less comfortably). This Airbus also gets recognition for still being in regular service, making frequent trips across the world for those who want to travel in luxury.

Photo: Maarten Visser/Flickr

The Airbus A380-800

This Boeing model is an extra-large version of the 747 with a modified fuselage designed for extra carrying capacity…and a little light competition with the Airbus A380. With a length of around 250 feet and a wingspan of 225 feet, it doesn’t quite reach the Airbus in terms of size, but Boeing does claim that its model is lighter and more fuel efficient. It can carry up to 467 passengers on its intercontinental journeys, some of which may soon be piloted by robots.

Photo: Boeing

The Boeing 747-8

The Convair isn’t the largest plane on our list, with a wingspan of around 230 feet and a length of only 162 feet — but what it lacks in size this large plane makes up for with sheer ambition and guts. The plane was designed to be a long-range heavy bomber back in the 1940s, and by the time it was built in the 1950s everyone had the Cold War on their minds. With six radial piston engines, the craft was ready to carry anything, as well as protect its load with 16 cannons positioned at all sides. It even housed nuclear weapons at one point, and variants of the B-36 carried out a variety of U.S. scouting and strategy missions. They were all eventually retired by 1959 as smaller, lighter bombers were developed, but the legend of the Peacemaker lives on.

Photo: US Goverment/Wikipedia

The Convair B-36

Singapore Airlines passengers unsettled by cameras in seat-back displays

A number of passengers flying with Singapore Airlines recently expressed concern over cameras embedded in seat-back displays on some of its aircraft, though the carrier insists the devices have been disabled.

The best Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus cases to keep your titanic phone safe

The new Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus is a gorgeous device, with one of the best dual-lens cameras we've ever seen. Keep your titanic device safe and scratch-free with the best Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus cases.
Emerging Tech

Airbus will stop making the world’s biggest passenger plane

Airbus announced this week that it will stop building the world's biggest passenger plane in 2021. The maker of the double-decker A380 said a changing market and lack of orders gave it little choice but to end production.

Take to the virtual skies with these free flight simulators

You don't have to spend the entirety of your paycheck to become a virtual ace, at least when it comes to flight simulation. Our list of the best free flight simulators will let you unleash your inner Maverick.
Smart Home

No strings attached: This levitating lamp uses science to defy gravity

Now on Kickstarter, the Levia lamp is a cool industrial-looking lamp which boasts a levitating bulb. Looking for a table light that will dazzle visitors? You've come to the right place.
Emerging Tech

The Great White Shark’s genome has been decoded, and it could help us end cancer

In a significant step for marine and genetic science, researchers have decoded the genome of the great white shark. The genetic code revealed a wealth of insight into what makes these creatures so successful from an evolutionary standpoint.
Emerging Tech

‘Guerrilla rainstorm’ warning system aims to prevent soakings, or worse

Japanese researchers have created a "guerrilla rainstorm" early-warning system aimed at preventing severe soakings, or worse. The team hopes to launch the system before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Barbie’s Corvette ain’t got nothing on Sphero’s fully programmable robot car

Sphero is known for devices like the Sphero Bolt and BB-8 Star Wars toy, but now the company is back with another addition to its lineup -- the Sphero RVR. The RVR is a fully programmable robot car that can be expanding with different…
Emerging Tech

Japanese spacecraft will collect a sample from asteroid Ryugu by shooting at it

The Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa 2 will soon touch down on the asteroid Ryugu, where it will collect a sample by shooting a bullet into the soil. The sample will be returned to Earth in 2020 to learn about the formation of asteroids.
Emerging Tech

Hong Kong’s vision for a smart prison is a full-blown Orwellian nightmare

Hong Kong wants to bring prisons up to date by introducing new location-tracking wristbands for inmates, and a robot arm whose job is to comb through poop on the lookout for contraband.
Emerging Tech

No faking! Doctors can now objectively measure how much pain you’re in

Researchers at Indiana University School of Medicine have discovered the blood biomarkers that can objectively reveal just how much pain a patient is in. Here's why that's so important.
Emerging Tech

SeaBubbles’ new electric hydrofoil boat is the aquatic equivalent of a Tesla

What do you get if you combine a Tesla, a flying car, and a sleek boat? Probably something a bit like SeaBubbles, the French "flying" boat startup which offers a fresh spin on the hydrofoil.
Emerging Tech

We tried a $500 electronic dab rig, and now we can’t go back to normal vaporizers

Induction heating is the future of cannabis vaporizers. Loto Labs wowed us with what likely is the best concentrate vaporizer on the market today. With a $500 price tag, it's expensive, but it should definitely be your next dab rig.
Emerging Tech

Israel will launch world’s first privately funded moon mission tomorrow

This week will see the world's first privately funded lunar mission launch. Israel's first mission to the moon will be launched aboard SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket on Thursday, February 21.