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
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Robots that eat landmines and clean your floors

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's fun to gawk!

The hottest Nintendo Switch games you can get right now

The Nintendo Switch's lineup started off small, but games have steadily released as the console continues through its second year. Here are the best Nintendo Switch games available now.

Photography News: Instagram’s disappearing likes, the best photos of the year

In this week's Photography News, see why Instagram is testing a version that excludes the number of likes a post gets. Also, see the impressive winners from two photography contests and the latest features coming to the Fujifilm X-T3.

The Pixel 3 range will soon be coming to T-Mobile's network

Google's latest flagships, the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL, are now official and we have all the details from the October 9 event in New York City and Paris. Here's everything we know about the Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL.

If we get a Nintendo 64 Classic, it needs to have these games

The Nintendo 64 introduced a long list of top-tier games, but which were the iconic platform's best? From Mario Party to Ocarina of Time to NFL Blitz, check out our picks for the best N64 games.
Emerging Tech

Star gives off superflare equal to 80 billion megatonnes of TNT. That’s a lot

A tiny star the size of Jupiter has been observed giving off a massive superflare 10 times more powerful than any flare from our Sun. The findings are raising questions about how much energy small stars can hold.
Emerging Tech

The grid of the future will be powered by … giant subterranean bagpipes?

In order to transition to a more renewable-focused energy system, we need to scale up our grid storage capacity --- and our existing methods aren't going to cut it. Could compressed air be the key?
Emerging Tech

SpaceX experiences problem during test, Crew Dragon capsule may have exploded

SpaceX has experienced a problem during the testing of its Crew Dragon capsule. During the engine test firing at Cape Canaveral yesterday afternoon, an unspecified anomaly occurred which lead to plumes of smoke rising from the test site.
Emerging Tech

Beresheet crash caused by manual command, but reflector device may have survived

Details are emerging about what may have gone wrong with spacecraft Beresheet's failed moon landing. A manual command was entered which led to a chain reaction. But NASA still hopes to salvage use of its Laser Retroreflector Array device.
Emerging Tech

The oldest type of molecule in the universe has been located at last

A milestone in the development of the early universe was the combination of helium and hydrogen atoms into a molecule called helium hydride. But strangely enough, this ancient molecule has never been detected in space before now.
Emerging Tech

Mercury’s wobble as it spins reveals that it has an inner solid core

Scientists have long wondered what the inside of Mercury looks like, and they now have strong evidence that the planet has a large and solid metallic core. The data for the new findings was collected by the now-defunct MESSENGER mission.
Emerging Tech

Gravitational forces at heart of Milky Way shaped this star cluster like a comet

Hubble has captured the stunning Messier 62 cluster. The cluster is warped, with a long tail which stretches out to form a shape like a comet. It is thought this distortion is due to Messier 62's proximity to the center of the galaxy.
Emerging Tech

Burgers are just the beginning: Embracing the future of lab-grown everything

You’ve almost certainly heard of the 'farm to fork' movement, but what about 'lab to table'? Welcome to the fast-evolving world of lab-grown meat. Is this the future of food as we know it?
Emerging Tech

Troubleshooting Earth

It’s no secret that humans are killing the planet. Some say it’s actually so bad that we’re hurtling toward a sixth major extinction event -- one which we ourselves are causing. But can technology help us undo the damage we’ve…