Special Report

This Is the Biggest Airplane in History

The world’s biggest airplane was just destroyed. Ukraine’s Antonov AN-225, built three decades ago, was destroyed at an airport as the Russians advanced on Kyiv. However, whether it was the world’s biggest airplane is subject to debate. 

Howard Hughes’s “Spruce Goose,” or Hughes H-4 Hercules, was only flown once on Nov. 2, 1947. It had the largest wingspan of any plane in history until it was surpassed by the Scaled Composites Stratolaunch in 2019, a vehicle designed to carry air-launch-to-orbit rockets. Though the Stratolaunch was a prototype, it is the biggest airplane in history, with a wingspan of 117 meters (384 feet). (And this is the world’s largest warship.)

But should prototypes be included? Or planes that only had one model built? Should the record be based on wingspan or on weight? Science and technology website RankRed tried to settle the argument of the world’s biggest airplane. Still, the site’s methodology opens at least one question. 

The site’s experts note: “According to both the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), a large aircraft is an aircraft with a maximum take-off weight or mass of more than 5,700 kg.” They add that certain helicopters could be considered large aircraft.

RankRed decided to make wingspan and maximum takeoff weight the primary measures. Engine power becomes a factor as the ability to take off with an extremely heavy load depends on the engine as much as anything else. The list includes prototypes and planes with only one craft built.

To find the biggest airplanes in history, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed RankRed’s 13 Biggest Airplanes in The World, 2022 Edition. Some of the planes included in the RankRed list first flew in the 1950s. Others are just a few years old. In some cases, only a few were ever manufactured. (This is the U.S. Air Force’s oldest aircraft.)

The race for the largest plane was most public a decade ago, when Boeing and Airbus endeavored to see which company would build the passenger jet that would hold the most people. Boeing has three airplanes on the list and Airbus two. Antonov State Enterprise of Ukraine also has three airplanes on the list.

While the Stratolaunch was the largest airplane ever built and flown, the largest plane in development is the Beriev Be-2500. The Russian company is basing the airplane on the Bartini Beriev VVA-14, manufactured in the 1970s. Among other advanced features of the plane, it could take off over the water. Only two prototypes were built, and they were  grounded in the 1980s. 

The Beriev Be-2500 is planned to be 123 meters (134 yards) long, have a wingspan of 156 meters (171 yards), and a maximum takeoff weight of 2,500,000 kg (2,755 tons). It would be an amphibious transport jet, meaning it could be used both as a conventional aircraft and as a wing-in-ground-effect aircraft. Upon its completion, it would become the largest airplane in the world.

Click here to see the biggest airplane in history

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