Throughout history, aviation engineers have pushed the boundaries of aircraft design to create ever larger and more capable flying machines. These massive planes, with their record-breaking size and lift capacity, represent the pinnacle of human engineering and imagination.
In this article, we will explore the 13 largest aircraft ever built, looking at their unique capabilities and what made them aviation milestones. Understanding these giant planes provides insight into the evolution of aviation technology and humankind‘s quest to conquer the skies.
13. Airbus Beluga XL
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 227 tonnes
The first plane on our list is the Airbus Beluga XL, an oversized cargo plane specifically designed to transport large aircraft components between Airbus facilities.
The Beluga XL is based on the Airbus A330 airliner but features an expanded fuselage capable of carrying 51 tonnes of payload. It was introduced in 2019 as the successor to the original Beluga design and allows Airbus to ship wings, fuselages, and other massive parts needed for final aircraft assembly.
With a length of 63 meters and a wingspan of 60 meters, the Beluga XL is an impressively large aircraft. Its specialized cargo bay and vertical stabilizer make it instantly recognizable. This beast of the skies has become an integral part of Airbus’s production logistics.
12. McDonnell Douglas MD-11
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 286 tonnes
The McDonnell Douglas MD-11 is a widebody trijet airliner that first flew in 1990. It was designed to replace the earlier DC-10 and featured upgraded engines, avionics, and extended range.
With room for up to 410 passengers and a maximum takeoff weight of 286 tonnes, the MD-11 was one of the largest airliners of its time. Its three engines provided ample power, allowing it to reach a range of up to 7,140 nautical miles when configured for long-haul flights.
Though not as commercially successful as hoped, the MD-11 still made its mark on aviation history thanks to its impressive size and capability. Approximately 200 were built before production ceased in 2000.
11. Airbus A350-1000
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 316 tonnes
Representing Airbus’s latest widebody offering is the A350-1000, the largest variant of the A350 family. This technologically advanced aircraft can fly over 8,700 nautical miles while carrying between 350-410 passengers.
The A350-1000 is powered by two massive Rolls-Royce Trent XWB turbofan engines providing 97,000 pounds of thrust each. This propels the plane’s 316 tonne maximum takeoff weight aloft for ultra long-haul flights.
Since its introduction in 2018, the A350-1000 has been well received by airlines for its fuel efficiency, range, and passenger comfort. It promises to be a workhorse of long-range travel for decades to come.
10. Boeing 777-300ER
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 351.5 tonnes
Boeing’s 777-300ER is one of aviation‘s most popular widebody, long-range airliners. Its extended range and seating for over 350 passengers in a three-class configuration have made it a mainstay of many airline fleets since entering service in 2004.
The 777-300ER has a maximum takeoff weight of 351.5 tonnes, powered by two 115,500 pound-thrust GE90-115B turbofans. This empowers it to cover 7,370 nautical miles while carrying hundreds of passengers and their luggage with room to spare.
Already one of Boeing’s most successful models, the 777-300ER continues to be a popular choice for airlines seeking high-capacity, long-haul aircraft.
9. Airbus A340-600
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 380 tonnes
The Airbus A340-600 is the largest aircraft from the European manufacturer‘s earlier A340 family. This four-engine beauty could transport up to 475 passengers over 7,800 nautical miles without refueling.
Introduced in 2002, the A340-600 boasted an impressive 380 tonne maximum takeoff weight. Its four Rolls-Royce Trent 556 turbofan engines provided the necessary power for this ultra long-range airliner.
Though no longer in production, the A340-600 enjoyed several years of airline service thanks to its excellent range and capacity. Airbus applied lessons from this large plane in designing the modern long-range twins like the A350.
8. Lockheed C-5 Galaxy
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 381 tonnes
When it comes to massive military airlifters, few compare to Lockheed’s C-5 Galaxy. Since entering service in 1970, this gigantic transport has been a workhorse for the United States Air Force.
With its distinctive high-mounted wing, four turbofan engines, and enormous fuselage, the C-5 Galaxy is an imposing aircraft. It can haul oversized cargo and up to 270 troops across intercontinental distances, thanks in part to its 381 tonne maximum takeoff weight.
Built to convey everything from tanks to helicopters across oceans, more than 120 of these strategic airlifters have been produced. The upgraded C-5M Super Galaxy variant continues to serve America’s global mobility needs today.
7. Boeing Dreamlifter
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 396.89 tonnes
Boeing’s Dreamlifter is a specially modified 747-400 aircraft used primarily for transporting large aircraft components. It ferries fuselages, wings, and other parts between Boeing facilities during the assembly of new airliners.
To allow massive pieces to be loaded and unloaded easily, the Dreamlifter features an expanded fuselage giving it incredible cargo capacity. Despite its swollen midsection, the plane can still fly up to 4,200 nautical miles at its 396.89 tonne maximum takeoff weight.
Relatively few Dreamlifters were built, but their oversized abilities make them indispensable assets in Boeing’s global production network. These package delivery planes on steroids help turn out some of the world’s largest aircraft.
6. Antonov An-124 Ruslan
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 402 tonnes
Designed by Soviet-Ukrainian aerospace company Antonov, the An-124 Ruslan is among the largest military cargo aircraft ever produced. Only the An-225, which we’ll get to later, exceeds its airlift capacity.
The An-124 can transport up to 150 tonnes of vehicles, equipment, or supplies up to 2,000 nautical miles. It achieves this thanks to its 402 tonne maximum takeoff weight and four powerful turbofans.
Since entering service in 1986, the An-124 has showcased its excellent heavy hauling capabilities in military and humanitarian roles. Over 60 were built, some of which continue supporting cargo operations worldwide.
5. Boeing 747-400ER
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 412 tonnes
The Boeing 747-400ER exemplifies the impressive size and performance of later 747 variants. This “Extended Range” version could carry over 600 passengers nonstop for 7,670 nautical miles.
Introduced in 2002, the 747-400ER had a maximum takeoff weight of 412 tonnes — over 10% greater than the original 747-100. Powered by four turbofans producing up to 63,300 pounds of thrust each, this jumbo jet could cover tremendous distances.
For airlines needing a large long-haul aircraft, the 747-400ER delivered ample capacity and range. While 747 production has ceased, this outstanding model extended the Queen of the Skies’ capabilities.
4. Boeing 747-8
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 448 tonnes
Boeing has crowned its 747 family line with the 747-8, the largest and most advanced 747 version ever produced. The -8 retains the iconic widebody layout of early 747s but with considerably improved performance.
The passenger 747-8 can carry over 600 passengers up to 8,000 nautical miles while the 747-8 Freighter transports 134 tonnes of cargo similarly vast distances. These feats become possible via a 448 tonne maximum takeoff weight.
Though demand has softened, the advanced 747-8 demonstrates the immense size and capacity achievable in a modern long-range jetliner. It represents the pinnacle of the 747’s decades-long evolution.
3. Airbus A380
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 575 tonnes
The largest passenger airliner in the world, Airbus’s A380 is a true jumbo jet that redefined modern aviation. Its huge capacty and double-deck configuration can accommodate over 850 travelers aboard a single plane.
To get this massive airliner airborne, the A380 relies on a whopping 575 tonne maximum takeoff weight. Power comes from four Rolls-Royce Trent 900 or Engine Alliance GP7200 turbofans, delivering over 300 kilonewtons of thrust.
Its incredible size allows airlines to condense traffic into fewer aircraft and serve busy hub airports with ease. The A380’s capabilities moved super-large aircraft into the modern era.
2. Stratolaunch ROC
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 590 tonnes
America’s Stratolaunch ROC has the distinction of being the world’s largest aircraft by wingspan. Designed for air-launching orbital rockets, it features not one but two fuselages bridged by a central wing.
The plane’s total capacity exceeds 590 tonnes split between its two hulls, six jet engines, and integrated launch pylon. Test flights proved the stratosphere-bound ROC could haul giant rocket ships into the skies before release.
Following the death of founder Paul Allen in 2018, Stratolaunch’s future remains uncertain. But its brief flight test program demonstrated the unprecedented size and capabilities of this one-of-a-kind giant.
1. Antonov An-225 Mriya
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 640 tonnes
And now, the current record-holder for world‘s largest aircraft: the Antonov An-225 Mriya. Originally produced to transport the Soviet space shuttle, only one An-225 was ever built, putting it in a class of its own.
At 275 feet long with a 290 foot wingspan, the six-engine An-225 is simply gargantuan. It can carry 250 tonnes of cargo up to 2,160 nautical miles thanks to a staggering 640 tonne maximum takeoff weight.
The solo example of this mega-plane continues flying special international cargo missions to this day. Driven by its immense capacity, the An-225 Mriya remains aviation‘s heavyweight champion.
This list of the world’s largest aircraft, from cargo haulers like the An-225 to passenger giants including the A380 and 747, reveals the incredible growth of planes over the past decades. Driven forward by advancing technology and design, these massive flying machines represent aviation engineering on the grandest scale.
The pursuit of bigger and more capable aircraft continues even now, with aerospace firms and innovative engineers seeking to develop the next generation of record-breaking flying giants. What oversized airplane will claim the title of world’s largest aircraft next? The future promises to be exciting as aviation presses onward and upward.