Aircraft records can indeed be confusing. If you need any reminder of that observation, try looking through the records on the FAI website. FAI, short for F้d้ration A้ronautique Internationale, is the international body that officially recognizes aviation and space records. However, most of the information on that site concerns aircraft performance, such as speed and altitude, rather than size.
Your question really comes down to how you decide to compare one plane to another. One of the measurements you mention is wingspan. While this dimension is often used to compare overall size, it is generally not the most
accepted measure. Aircraft are usually ranked by weight, the maximum takeoff weight in particular. By this measure, the world’s largest plane is the Antonov An-225 built in Ukraine when it was part of the Soviet Union.
An-225, largest plane in the world
The An-225 is quoted as having a maximum takeoff weight of over 1.3 million pounds (600,000 kg). The FAI gives credit for a slightly lower weight of 1.12 million pounds (508,200 kg), the record set by an An-225 in 1989 for the largest mass ever lifted by an airplane to an altitude of 6,500 ft (2,000 m). The An-225 was originally built to ferry the Soviet Buran space shuttle but it is now used to transport various outsize cargos. Only one example was ever completed, and it is currently available for charter flights through the British company Air Foyle. The An-225 is a cargo transport only and has never been used as an airliner.
If we continue to measure by maximum takeoff weight, the next largest plane in the world would be either the related An-124 transport or the Boeing 747 airliner. Both aircraft are quoted with a maximum weight around 900,000 lb (405,000 kg). The An-124 was also built by the Soviet Union as a large cargo plane for both military and civil use. The basic design was later enlarged and adapted to produce the An-225.
Over 50 examples of the An-124 were ultimately built, and many are now operated on charter flights through Air Foyle or other commercial firms. The American EP-3 reconnaissance plane that was forced to land after colliding
with a Chinese fighter was actually transported back to the US aboard an An-124 chartered by the American government.
The Boeing 747, meanwhile, is currently the world’s largest commercial airliner and typically carries about 400 passengers on intercontinental flights. The 747 will not retain its title for long, however, since the new Airbus A380 will carry over 550 passengers and have a takeoff weight over 1.23 million pounds (560,000 kg).
The 747-8 Intercontinental is the only jetliner in the 400- to 500-seat market, stretched 5.6 m (18.3 ft) from the 747-400 to provide 467 seats in a three-class configuration and a 14,815-km (8,000-nmi) range. Using 787-technology engines, the airplane will be quieter, produce lower emissions, and achieve better fuel economy than any competing jetliner. Compared to the 747-400, the 747-8 Intercontinental will provide nearly equivalent trip costs and 10 percent lower seat-mile costs, plus 26 percent greater cargo volume. Operating economics will offer a significant improvement over the A380. The 747-8 is more than 10 percent lighter per seat than the A380 and will consume 11 percent less fuel per passenger than the 555-seat airplane. That translates into a trip-cost reduction of 19 percent and a seat-mile cost reduction of more than 4 percent, compared to the A380. Both the 747-8 Intercontinental and 747-8 Freighter can use the existing infrastructure and ground equipment at most airports worldwide.
The 747-8 Freighter will be longer than the 747-400F by 5.6 m (18.3 ft) and enjoy a maximum structural payload capability of 140 metric tonnes (154 tons) with a range of 8,185 km (4,420 nmi). Also powered by 787-technology engines, it will achieve the same environmental benefits as the 747-8 Intercontinental. Compared to the 747-400, the 747-8 Freighter will have nearly equivalent trip costs and 16 percent lower ton-mile costs, plus 16 percent more revenue cargo volume than its predecessor. The additional 120 cu m (4,245 cu ft) of volume means the airplane can accommodate four additional main-deck pallets and three additional lower-hold pallets. Operating economics of the 747-8 Freighter will be significantly superior to the A380F. The 747-8F’s empty weight is 81 tonnes (89 tons) lighter than the A380F, resulting in a 24 percent
lower fuel burn per ton, 20 percent lower trip costs and 22 percent
lower ton-mile costs than the A380F.
the A380 also performed a series of compatability tests with the gates and ground equipment. Seen here at Gate E5 performing such tests, with plenty of ground crew to judge the “performance”. And how about that catering truck that can reach the upper deck!
Once it enters service, the A380 will become the world’s largest airliner and at least the second largest plane. Additional stretched models are also planned, and one of these will almost surely supersede the An-225 to take the official title as world’s largest plane.
Your question also mentions two other classic aircraft that were certainly enormous by any measure. Unfortunately, both proved to be disastrous follies that were great embarrassments to their proponents.
The Spruce Goose, officially known as the Hughes H-4 Hercules, was the brainchild of flamboyant billionaire Howard Hughes. The aircraft had originally been ordered by the US government during World War II as a giant cargo plane ferrying up to 750 armed troops or two 30-ton tanks. As the war concluded, Hughes believed he could adapt the massive plane to revolutionize long-distance transportation in the fledgling airline and air cargo industires. His creation was the world’s largest plane at the time and is still the largest flying boat ever built with a maximum takeoff weight of 400,000 lb (180,000 kg). The enormous craft also holds records for the largest wingspan at 319 ft 11 in (97.5 m), tallest airplane at 79 ft 3 3/8 in (24.2 m), and the largest aircraft ever made from wood.
After pouring $7 million of his own money and another $18 million of government funds into the behemoth, Hughes only succeeded in making a single mile-long flight in 1947.
The record-setting plane never flew again and is today a tourist attraction at the Evergreen Aviation Museum in Oregon.
Like the Spruce Goose, the Bristol Brabazon was another a government-sponsored effort intended to advance the state of the art in long-distance travel. The Brabazon was funded by the UK during the 1940s to develop a large airliner capable of non-stop flights between London and New York. Though smaller than the Spruce Goose, the Brabazon would have easily been the largest airliner of the day with a takeoff weight of 250,000 lb (115,000 kg) and a wingspan of 230 ft (70 m).
Bristol 167 Brabazon Mk1
If successful, the Brabazon offered the opportunity to challenge American manufacturers for dominance in the commercial aviation market. Unfortunately, the ambitious design failed to receive government certification
following the discovery of fatigue cracks in the propeller mountings. While the problem was certainly correctable, the UK decided to cancel further funding in the early 1950s even though ฃ3 million had already been invested. Only one prototype had been built, and it was broken up for scrap in late 1953 after flying only 400 hours. An improved prototype with structural enhancements and turboprop engines was also under construction, but it too was scrapped after the project was cancelled.
In summary, aircraft sizes are typically compared by weight rather than length or wingspan. The largest plane in
the world at the current time is therefore the An-225, though the A380 will likely overtake it in the near future.
The largest wingspan, however, still belongs to the Spruce Goose at nearly 320 feet. By this measure, the An-225
would be a distant second place at 290 ft, and the A380 falls short at 262 ft.
Since this article was posted, we have received several messages from readers who believe the C-5 Galaxy transport operated by the US Air Force ranks second or third place and should be included. The C-5 was the world’s largest plane when it was introduced in the late 1960s, but it has since been overtaken by the jet-powered aircraft discussed above.
The C-5 remained the world’s largest plane until the introduction of the An-124, and the C-5 has since been surpassed by the An-225, enlarged models of the 747, and the new A380 as well. The current ranking of the world’s largest aircraft by maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) is shown in the following table.
1. An-225 Mriya1,300,000 –
2. Airbus A3801,230,000 –
3. Boeing 747-400ER910,000 the 747-8 under development will reach 960,000 lb
4. An-124 Ruslan892,870 –
5. C-5 Galaxy840,000 wartime only, peacetime TOW is limited to 769,000 lb
6. Airbus A340-600 HGW837,755
7. Boeing 777-300ER775,000 highest available weight, loading restrictions apply
With a wingspan of 223 ft, the C-5 currently ranks sixth after the Spruce Goose (320 ft), An-225 (290 ft), A380
(262 ft), An-124 (240 ft), and a tie between the Brabazon and B-36 (230 ft). The C-5 has a larger span than the 747-400 (211 ft) but will soon be narrowly beaten by the new 747-8 variant with a wingspan of nearly 225 ft.
New Boeing 797 Giant
|Summary of the eRumor:
The story says that the Boeing
Company is developing a radical new passenger jetliner that will carry
1,000 passengers. It’s designated the 797 and is a “blended
wing” design looking a lot like the old flying wing experiments of
TruthOrFiction.com went straight to the source, the Boeing Company. A spokesperson said that it is not true that Boeing is developing a commercial blended wing aircraft. He asked that we help stop the perpetuation of the story.
What is true, according to Boeing, is that Boeing Phantom Works, the
company’s advanced research and development organization, is doing
research on the blended wing body design as a potential military
aircraft. Boeing has built a scale model to test its low-speed
flying characteristics in a wind tunnel. There are also plans (as
of 7/13/07) to flight test a scale model.
appeared on the Internet:
Boeing to take on Airbus with (1000 seat) giant 797 Blended Wing plane
Boeing is preparing a 1000 passenger jet that could reshape the
Air travel industry for the next 100 years.The radical Blended
Wing design has been developed by Boeing in cooperation with
the NASA Langley Research Centre.The mammoth plane will have a wing
span of 265 feet compared to the 747’s 211 feet, and is
designed to fit within the newly created terminals used
for the 555 seat Airbus A380, which is 262 feet
wide.The new 797 is in direct response to the Airbus A380 which has
racked up 159 orders, but has not yet flown any
passengers.Boeing decide to kill its 747X stretched super jumbo in
2003 after little interest was shown by airline companies, but
has continued to develop the ultimate Airbus crusher 797 for
years at its Phantom Works research facility in Long Beach, Calif.
The Airbus A380 has been in the works since 1999 and has accumulated
$13 billion in development costs, which gives Boeing a
huge advantage now that Airbus has committed to the older style
tubular aircraft for decades to come.There are several big
advantages to the blended wing design, the most important being
the lift to drag ratio which is expected to increase by an
amazing 50%, with overall weight reduced by 25%, making it an
estimated 33% more efficient than the A380, and making Airbus’s
$13 billion dollar investment look pretty shaky.
High body rigidity is another key factor in
blended wing aircraft, It reduces turbu lence and creates less
stress on the air frame which adds to efficiency, giving the
797 a tremendous 8800 nautical mile
range with its 1000 passengers flying comfortably at mach .88 or
654 mph (+-1046km/h) cruising speed another advantage over the
Airbus tube-and-wing designed A380’s 570 mph (912 km/h) The
exact date for
introduction is unclear, yet the battle lines are clearly drawn in
the high-stakes war for civilian air supremacy.