From the earliest days of history with the mythological tale of Icarus to the first controlled, sustained flight with the Wright Brothers, human beings have long been fascinated with flight. This fascination has manifested itself in multiple unique ways throughout the course of human history.
From the absurd to the practical, from the slow to the supersonic there have been various configurations of flying machines over the years. What has remained consistent through all of this has been the fascination with the size of aircraft. Massive machines that seem to somehow defy all logic by taking to the skies have kept heads tilted up since the advent of controlled flight.
This is a list of some of those aircraft. The largest, heaviest and widest flying machines to ever fly, and have flown, through the skies.
According to the Stratolaunch website, the Stratolaunch is the "world's largest aircraft by wingspan and is the largest all-composite plane ever built."
Comprised of two-fuselages joined together, this aircraft is designed to be an "air-launch platform" to make access to space more convenient, reliable and routine. This massive aircraft is essentially a flying launchpad that will help send payloads of various sorts into orbit.
When it eventually takes off, it will become the largest wingspan aircraft in history to take to the skies.
That the Soviet Union designed and engineered some of the most outlandish machines should not be surprising, but the Antonov An-225 surely stands out as one of the more ambitious projects. Built by the Antonov Design Bureau in the 1980's, it was intended to be used to airlift rocket boosters and other material related to the Soviet space program.
To this day, this six-engined (yes, six engines) aircraft is the heaviest aircraft ever built. It is also one of a kind as the construction of a second plane coincided with the fall of the Soviet Union and was thus never completed.
Travellers may be familiar with this giant of the commercial aviation industry. This easily recognisable icon has been servicing passengers, airlines and shuttling freight all over the world for more than 3 decades.
The 747-8 holds the record, at the moment, for being the longest airliner in the world. However, as airlines increasingly show preference for single-aisle designs in aircraft, you may not have too much time to fly across oceans in this aviation icon.
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Smaller than the An-225, this product of the Antonov Design Bureau is today the biggest military transport aircraft in the world.
The An-124 is used to move around oversized cargo, specialised equipment and military hardware that would otherwise render lesser planes incapable.
Lockheed C-5 Galaxy
- Empty weight: 172 371 kilograms
- Length: 75.31 metres
- Wingspan: 67.89 metres
If your country is being invaded by Uncle Sam, look up and you'll likely see one of the big boys in the skies ready to deliver hundreds of kilograms of freedom at a time.
Commonly used by the US military to transport military hardware, this beast of an aircraft is capable of airlifting tanks, helicopters and much more. So if you see this giant headed your way, start waving the American flag and bust out the Coca-Cola or you're likely to have a tough time.
Another aircraft of East European origin, this plane is today put to use by the Russian Air Force. It holds the impressive titles of being the largest combat aircraft, largest swept-wing aircraft and largest supersonic aircraft in the world because when the Russians do something they do it right.
An interesting fact about this particular aircraft is that an inspection of the factory wherein it is made inspired Russian President Vladimir Putin to propose a civilian version of the aircraft for supersonic travel. Maybe the Russians will be the ones to bring supersonic travel back?
Tupolev Tu-160 (Photo: iStock)
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- Weight: 86 500 kilograms
- Length: 56 metres
- Wingspan: 45 metres
Aptly titled, this big plane looks like the whale after which it is named. Officially known as the Airbus A300-600 Super Transporter, the plane was designed to transport large and unusually shaped aircraft parts.
This big plane can carry almost 52 tons when fully loaded so it is quite a sight seeing this heavy in the skies.
HAV Airlander 10
Not a winged aircraft like most of the others on this list, but the HAV Airlander 10 is certainly deserving of being on this list due to its sheer size. At 92 metres in length, it is the longest aircraft on this list.
According to the Hybrid Air Vehicle website, the Airlander 10 is "the world's largest aircraft" and makes use of innovative technology to combine the "best characteristics of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters with lighter-than-air technology to create a new breed of hyper-efficient aircraft".
Thanks to its innovative design, this giant of the sky can stay airborne for days at a time and is envisaged as having a wide variety of commercial and military uses. With the nightmare of the Hindenberg still prevalent in the minds of many a traveller when thinking about flying blimp-like aircraft, it may be some time before we see the Airlander transporting people around any time soon.
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(Sources: CNN, Popular Mechanics)
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