Top 10: Biggest planes in the world
We spread our wings and fly away on some of the world's biggest planes.
Aeroplanes are a modern marvel of engineering. In a little over one hundred years, humans have gone from barely being able to stay airborne for more than a few seconds to flying hundreds of people around the world. Some of these huge planes can even carry trains on board, though probably not as carry-on items.
Aircraft manufacturers are still pushing the boundaries when it comes to design. Improvements in efficiency and speed mean that passengers can travel the world quicker and in more comfort than ever before.
So, ladies and gentlemen, please stow away your luggage and prepare to take a journey through the largest planes by wingspan in the air today. And thank you for flying with BBC Science Focus.
10. Boeing Dreamliner - 60.12m
The Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner first entered service in 2011 and is one of the fastest commercial aircraft in the skies, reaching maximum propulsion speeds of 944km/h. With the help of the jet stream, one 787-8 was unofficially clocked at a scarcely-believable 1289km/h in 2019.
Its clever wing design and state-of-the-art engines mean that is designed to be 20 per cent more efficient than the Boeing 767 it replaced. Another fun fact – the Dreamliner has the biggest cabin windows of any commercial jet, meaning that even passengers in the middle of the plane can get a glimpse of the horizon.
9. Airbus A340-500 - 63.45m
It may be getting on a bit in commercial jet terms, but the A340-500 still has an impressive range of 14,484km. This means it has been able to fly non-stop from London to Perth, Australia, on one tank of fuel.
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However, due to inefficiency and more modern aircraft taking its place, the jet is being phased out of service around the world.
8. Boeing 747 Dreamlifter - 64.44m
This wide-bodied cargo plane was designed mainly to transport parts of another plane (The Boeing 787 Dreamliner) from factories to final assembly plants. But the sheer size and versatility of this freighter have led to a long service life.
Only four Dreamlifters have been built to date, and the plane has become synonymous with transporting medical supplies around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic.
7. Lockheed C5 Galaxy - 67.89m
The C5 Galaxy is a military transport plane that has been in use with the US Air Force since 1969. Updated engines and systems mean that a version of this plane will still be in service in 2040, which is a very long and impressive career by any measure.
In many areas though, the C5 is beginning to show its age. It is well-known for being incredibly fuel-inefficient and unreliable among pilots and operators. However, its huge cargo hold can hold tanks and other large military equipment and transport them anywhere in the world.
6. Boeing 747-8 - 68.45m
The venerable 747 is still going strong after over 50 years in service, and the 747-8 variant is the biggest version of all. For a decade it was the longest airliner in the world, before being succeeded by the Boeing 777X.
Although showing its age in some areas, the 747 can still fly 467 passengers around the world in comfort. It is also one of the most successful and recognisable planes in the skies.
5. Boeing 777X - 71.75m (when airborne)
Due to go into service in 2025, the new Boeing 777-9 and the freight version, the 777-8, are very impressive planes. They feature the latest aviation technology, including more fuel-efficient engines and wider bodies for more cabin space.
The folding wingtips mean that the wingspan grows when the plane is in flight, going from 64.85m to 71.75m, and helping this plane move a few more places higher on our list.
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4. Antonov An-124 - 73.3m
The Anatonov AN-124 is currently the heaviest cargo plane in operation and has been delivering cargo around the world for nearly 40 years. Despite their old design, they still play an important role in aid missions, such as providing support to earthquake victims in Syria and Turkey in March 2023.
Similar in design to the Lockheed C5 Galaxy, it can carry 17 per cent more payload due to its wider wingspan, as well as 88 passengers when required.
3. Airbus A380-800 - 79.75m
The A380-800 is the world's biggest passenger plane and is capable of flying up to 853 people on their holidays, although the average number is closer to 600.
It is the first commercial airliner to use synthetic liquid fuel, testing the concept in 2008. In March 2022, the A380 also tested 100 per cent sustainable aviation fuel, in a flight lasting three hours.
Production of the plane has now ended after 251 vehicles were constructed, and there are no plans to replace this giant of the skies.
2. Antonov An-225 - 88.4m
The world's largest transport plane was in service right up until it was destroyed during the Battle of Antonov Airport, during the invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Up until this point, it was the heaviest plane ever built, with a maximum take-off weight of 640 tonnes.
Only one plane was originally completed, but after its destruction plans were announced to complete a partially-constructed second version of the plane, meaning that we may see this behemoth in our skies once again.
1. Scaled Composites Stratolaunch - 117m
The Stratolaunch has a wingspan of 117m and is the biggest plane ever flown. To put that into some kind of context, the average soccer field is about 105m in length.
It features six engines which can take the plane to a height of 10,668m (35,000ft) and will carry orbital rockets to the edge of space. It has a twin-fuselage design, with the cockpit and flight crew all being housed in the right fuselage. The left fuselage is uncrewed and contains the flight data systems.
The plane has, to date, flown ten times and is considered to be operational. But don't expect it to be flying you to Magaluf any time soon.
James Cutmore is the picture editor of BBC Science Focus Magazine, researching striking images for the magazine and on the website. He is also has a passion for taking his own photographs
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