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
Product Review

The 2019 Porsche Macan S is a luxurious and quick SUV, but it's no road tripper

The roster of models challenging the Porsche Macan grows annually. The German firm updated its smallest, most affordable SUV with a new engine, more tech features, and subtle design tweaks to keep it looking fresh.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘Twilight Zone’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.

These are the best action cameras money can buy

Action cameras are great tools for capturing videos of your everyday activities, whether it's a birthday party or the steepest slope you've ever descended on your snowboard. These are the best money can buy.
Home Theater

Looking for the best 4K Ultra HD TVs you can buy? Here are five great options

If it's time to upgrade your old 1080p to a new 4K model but you don't know what to look for, fear not, as we're here with a list of the best 4K Ultra HD TVs to help make your buying process as easy as possible.
Emerging Tech

CRISPR gene therapy regulates hunger, staves off severe obesity in mice

Researchers from UC San Francisco have demonstrated how CRISPR gene editing can be used to prevent severe obesity in mice, without making a single edit to the mouse's genome. Here's how.
Emerging Tech

Capture app saves money by 3D scanning objects using iPhone’s TrueDepth camera

Capture is a new iPhone app created by the Y Combinator-backed startup Standard Cyborg. It allows anyone to perform 3D scans of objects and share them with buddies. Here's how it works.
Emerging Tech

Rise of the Machines: Here’s how much robots and A.I. progressed in 2018

2018 has generated no shortage of news, and the worlds of A.I. and robotics are no exception. Here are our picks for the most exciting, game changing examples of both we saw this year.
Emerging Tech

Sick of walking everywhere? Here are the best electric skateboards you can buy

Thanks for Kickstarter and Indiegogo, electric skateboards are carving a bigger niche than you might think. Whether you're into speed, mileage, or something a bit more stylish, here are the best electric skateboards on the market.
Emerging Tech

Parker Solar Probe captures first image from within the atmosphere of the sun

NASA has shared the first image from inside the atmosphere of the sun taken by the Parker Solar Probe. The probe made the closest ever approach to a star, gathering data which scientists have been interpreting and released this week.
Emerging Tech

Say cheese: InSight lander posts a selfie from the surface of Mars

NASA's InSight mission to Mars has commemorated its arrival by posting a selfie. The selfie is a composite of 11 different images which were taken by one of its instruments, the Instrument Deployment Camera.
Emerging Tech

Researchers create a flying wireless platform using bumblebees

Researchers at the University of Washington have come up with a novel way to create a wireless platform: using bumblebees. As mechanical drones' batteries run out too fast, the team made use of a biology-based solution using living insects.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Booze-filled ski poles and crypto piggy banks

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Bright ‘hyperactive’ comet should be visible in the sky this weekend

An unusual green comet, 46P/Wirtanen, will be visible in the night sky this month as it makes its closest approach to Earth in 20 years. It may even be possible to see the comet without a telescope.
Emerging Tech

Gorgeous images show storms and cloud formations in the atmosphere of Jupiter

NASA's Juno mission arrived at Jupiter in 2016 and has been collecting data since then. NASA has shared an update on the progress of the mission as it reaches its halfway point, releasing stunning images of the planet as seen from orbit.