Comparing the World’s Largest Airplanes

The gargantuan size of modern mega-planes would eclipse the tiny Wright Flyer that spurred on the aviation industry more than a century ago. In fact, the wingspans alone of these airplanes stretch wider than the entire 120-foot distance flown by the Wright brothers.

When Stratolaunch’s Roc flew for the first time in 2019, it became the world’s largest airplane by wingspan. [Courtesy: Stratolaunch]

The gargantuan size of modern mega-planes would eclipse the tiny Wright Flyer that spurred on the aviation industry more than a century ago. In fact, the wingspans alone of these airplanes stretch wider than the entire 120-foot distance flown by the Wright brothers.

The idea that engineers have built machines of this size that can harness the laws of physics is simply awe inspiring and continues to mezmerize aviation enthusiasts around the world.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the world’s largest airplanes by wingspan, length, and capacity. 

ANTONOV AN-225 MRIYA

Engines: 6 Ivchenko Progress D-18 turbofans
Length: 275 feet
Height: 60 feet
Wingspan: 290 feet
Cargo capacity: 46,000 cubic feet
Empty weight: 285,000 lbs
Cruise speed: 850 kmh (528 mph)
First flight: 1988

Purpose:

First developed to transport Buran, the Soviet Union’s space shuttle, the An-225 was owned and operated by Antonov Airlines to carry oversized and extremely heavy equipment, such as steam generators and high-voltage power transformers.

Facts:

  • Designers considered a twin-fuselage version powered by at least 12 jet engines.
  • It was literally a one-of-a-kind airplane. (A second An-225 was started, but never finished.) 
  • Mriya was destroyed in February 2022, during Russia's invasion of Ukraine at Gostomel Airport (UKKM).

AIRBUS A380-800

Engines: 4 GE/Pratt & Whitney GP7200 or Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines
Length: 238 feet
Height: 79 feet
Wingspan: 262 feet
Passenger capacity: 545 (in a typical four-class configuration)
Empty weight: 611,000 lbs
Cruise speed: 903 kmh (561 mph)
First flight: 2005

Purpose:

Airbus miscalculated that superjumbo airliners would yield big long-term profits for passenger carriers. But new designs for twin-engine, transport-category airplanes with ultra-efficient engines lessened the viability of these double-decker wonders. After producing 251 A380s, production ended in 2021. Emirates, British Airways, and Singapore Airlines are among a handful of carriers that continue to operate them.

Fun facts:

  • The A380 is the world’s largest passenger airliner. In a typical four-class configuration, the superjumbo has a maximum capacity of 545 passengers, which is 78 more than Boeing’s 747-8 Intercontinental, which maxes out at 467. 
  • Some carriers have outfitted the A380 with a luxurious shower for first class passengers. 

  • The A380’s horizontal stabilizer measures 30.4 meters (100 feet), which is almost as long as the entire wingspan of the Airbus A320 single-aisle jet. 
  • During takeoff, the A380 wings flex upward by more than 4 meters (13 feet). 
  • The external paint (primer and topcoat) on an A380 weighs 531 kg (1,171 lbs).

BOEING 747-8 INTERCONTINENTAL

Engines: 4 GEnx-2B67 turbofan engines
Length: 250 feet
Height: 63 feet
Wingspan: 224 feet
Passenger capacity: 467 (three-class configuration)
Empty weight: 485,300 lbs
Cruise speed: Mach 0.86
First flight: 2010

Purpose:

Boeing’s initial iteration of the iconic Jumbo Jet, the 747-100, was the world’s first double-decker passenger jet, launching service with Pan Am in 1970. Earning the nickname “Queen of the Skies,” the 747 single-handedly changed the airline industry, making international travel for the middle class possible for the first time. More than 1,500 were built in multiple variants. The final 747—a 747-8F freighter—is expected to be delivered in 2022. 

Fun facts:

  • The next generation jetliner to be used as Air Force One will be a military version of the Boeing 747-8i. The new type will be designated VC-25B. 
  • The 747-8i is the world’s longest airliner currently in service. The 777-9, expected to enter service as early as 2023, will extend the 777 model’s lifespan a bit longer than the 747. 
  • The 747-8 includes improvements over the 747-400, such as technology from the flight deck of the 787 Dreamliner. Redesigned wings incorporate efficient raked wingtips, and double-slotted inboard flaps.

BOEING 777-9 (aka 777X)

Engines: 2 GE9X turbofans
Wingspan: 235 feet (with folding wingtips extended)
Passenger capacity: 426 (two-class configuration)
Length: 251 feet, 9 inches
Height: 64 feet, 1 inch
Empty weight: (Boeing has not yet released this information)
Cruise speed: (Boeing has not yet released this information)
First flight: 2020; Expected to enter service: as early as 2025

Purpose:

The idea behind Boeing’s 777X program was to produce a larger twin-engine passenger jet without having to start with a clean-sheet design. (The original 777-200 first flew in 1994.) What sets these new airplanes apart are their giant, lightweight, carbon-fiber wings that increase range while burning less fuel. 

Fun facts:

  • The 777X has the longest wings Boeing has ever built. In fact, they’re so long, their wings include hinges that allow the wingtips to fold. This feature allows the jet to more easily taxi to and from airport gates without colliding with infrastructure or other aircraft. 
  • The wings are composed of very strong and lightweight carbon fiber and are made in giant ovens called autoclaves, which are used to bake the enormous wing components under pressure. 
  • The 777X will be longer and wider than a Boeing 747 and will be the world’s largest twin-engine airliner.

BOEING DREAMLIFTER LCF (LARGE CARGO AIRCRAFT)

[Boeing’s modified 747-400 transporter]

Engines: 4 Pratt & Whitney 4062 turbofans
Cargo capacity: 65,000 cubic feet
Length: 235 feet
Height: 71 feet
Wingspan: 212 feet
Empty weight: 398,000 lbs
Cruise speed: Mach 0.82
First flight: 2006

Purpose: 

To transport wings, tail, and fuselage components for Boeing 787 Dreamliners and other oversized cargo.

Fun facts: 

  • Only four of the modified 747-400s were ever built.
  • The fuselage diameter of the Dreamlifter is 18 inches larger than the fuselage of the Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger jet.

HUGHES H-4 HERCULES [AKA SPRUCE GOOSE]

Engines: 8 Pratt & Whitney R-4360 Wasp Major 28-cylinder engines
Length: 218 feet
Height: 79 feet
Wingspan: 320 feet
Empty weight: 250,000 lbs
Cruise speed: 250 mph
First and only flight: 1947

Purpose: 

To serve as a U.S. military troop transport.

Fun facts:

  • Largest flying boat ever built. 
  • It was made almost entirely of laminated birch, not spruce. 
  • Only flew once: November 2, 1947.
  • On the day it flew, Howard Hughes, head of Hughes Aircraft Company, piloted the aircraft himself in California’s Long Beach Harbor. It flew a distance of one mile (1.6 kilometers), for less than a minute, remaining airborne 70 feet (21 meters) off the water at a speed of 80 mph (128 kph) before landing.

LOCKHEED C-5 GALAXY / C-5M SUPER GALAXY

Engines (C-5M): 4 GE CF6-80C2 turbofan engines
Cargo capacity: 281,001
Length: 247.8 feet
Height: 65.1 feet
Wingspan: 222.8 feet
Empty weight: 400,000 lbs
Cruise speed: Mach 0.77
First flight: 1968 (C-5A)

Purpose: 

Transportation of outsized cargo.

Fun facts:

  • The C-5M, the largest U.S. military aircraft, has an unrefueled range of approximately 5,524 statute miles (4,800 nm) with 120,000 pounds of cargo—and approximately 7,000 nm with no cargo on board.
  • C-5 aircraft engines were upgraded from four General Electric TF-39 engines to General Electric CF6-80C2-L1F (F-138) commercial engines, which have 22 percent more thrust, a 30 percent shorter takeoff roll, and a 58 percent faster climb rate, according to the U.S. Air Force.

STRATOLAUNCH 'ROC'

Engines: 6 Pratt & Whitney PW4056 turbofan engines
Length: 238 feet
Height: 50 feet
Wingspan: 385 feet (world’s longest wingspan)
Empty weight: 500,000 lbs
MTOW: 1.3 million lbs
Max speed: 460 nm
First flight: 2019

Purpose: 

Air-to-launch carrier for hypersonic vehicles and other types of aircraft.

Fun facts: 

  • Designed and built by Scaled Composites, founded by Burt Rutan.
  • Avionics, engines, and landing gear are re-purposed from the Boeing 747-400.
  • A three-person crew operates the jet from a flight deck in the right fuselage. (The front left fuselage is empty).
  • Its wingspan is more than 150 feet wider than a Boeing 747-8, more than 90 feet wider than the Antonov An-225, and more than 60 feet wider than the Hughes H-4. 
  • FAA registration number: N351SL 
  • Crew: Two pilots and a flight engineer
  • The twin fuselages are 95 feet apart
  • Official designation: Model 351

OTHER AIRCRAFT

LZ-129 HINDENBURG AIRSHIP

Length: 803 feet, 10 inches
Width: 135 feet
Maximum capacity: 72 passengers
Engines: 4 Daimler-Benz DB 602 16-cylinder diesel engines
Weight: about 242 tons (or 484,000 pounds)
Speed: 80 mph
First flight: 1936

Purpose: 

Long-distance passenger transportation.

Fun facts

  • It was the longest aircraft ever built in aviation history—more than three times longer than a 747. 
  • Typical crew: 40 flight officers and men; 10-12 stewards and cooks

HYBRID AIR VEHICLES AIRLANDER 10 AIRSHIP

Length: 302 feet
Width: 143 feet
Height: 85 feet
Engines: 4 V8 turbocharged diesel engines
Weight: 44,100 lbs
Cruise speed: 92 mph
First flight: 2012

Purpose:

Cargo or passenger transport; communications and surveillance platform. 

Fun facts:

  • If successful, it could become the longest aircraft in the world currently operational. 
  • The prototype only flew seven flights.
  • The production version is designed to be nearly 20 feet longer and is expected to enter service in 2025
  • Airlander uses fiber optic flight control systems, aka “fly-by-light” technology, instead of conventional systems that send control signals via fly-by-wire.
Thom is a former senior editor for FLYING. Previously, his freelance reporting appeared in aviation industry magazines. Thom also spent three decades as a TV and digital journalist at CNN’s bureaus in Washington and Atlanta, eventually specializing in aviation. He has reported from air shows in Oshkosh, Farnborough and Paris. Follow Thom on Twitter @thompatterson.
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