12 Monster Planes That Dominate the Skies
By Jay Bennett, Popular Mechanics, 16 February 2018.
By Jay Bennett, Popular Mechanics, 16 February 2018.
The marvel of flight never ceases to amaze, and the spectacle is that much more unbelievable when the aircraft are longer than Olympic pools, heavier than the biggest tanks, and taller than 5-story buildings. Here are the most monstrous planes flying today.
1. Antonov An-225 Mriya
Credit: Vasiliy Koba/Wikimedia Commons
By most metrics, the Antonov An-225 is the biggest plane in the world. Only one of these monster cargo aircraft was built by the Antonov Design Bureau in Ukrainian SSR in the 1980s. It was designed to carry the Buran spaceplane, the Soviet version of the space shuttle, as well as Energia rocket boosters, but the plane quickly found other airlifting work after being refurbished following the collapse of the Soviet space program.
It is the heaviest aircraft ever built, with a maximum takeoff weight of 710 tons. It holds the record for total airlifted payload at 559,580 pounds, as well as airlifted single-item payload at 418,830 pounds. It's has the longest wingspan of any plane currently flying at 290 feet. It's got six freakin engines. The An-225 is a monster among planes.
2. Aero Spacelines Super Guppy
Credit: NASA Photo/Tom Tschida
A guppy might be prey, but the Super Guppy is a monster. The bloated aircraft has been retired by every institution in the world save one - NASA. The U.S. space agency finds the Guppy's wide dimensions perfect for transporting spacecraft and rocket components.
The first Super Guppy was constructed from a ballooned fuselage taken from a Boeing C-97 Stratofreighter, taking to the skies in 1965. The turboprop cargo plane was largely replaced by the Airbus Beluga for large and awkwardly shaped cargo delivery, but as long as NASA still has a use for the Super Guppy, it will continue to baffle people in the sky - and NASA loves the Super Guppy.
3. Lockheed C-5 Galaxy
Credit: Tim Felce (Airwolfhound)/Wikimedia Commons
With a payload capacity of almost 135 tons, the C-5 Galaxy is the largest aircraft routinely operated by the U.S. military. The Air Force announced that it was reactivating the monster airlifer in May 2017.
The C-5 has enough cargo space to carry two M1 Abrams tanks, 16 Humvees, 3 Black Hawks, or a variety of other vehicles. Without cargo, the C-5 can fly up to 7,000 miles without refueling, making it the longest range military airlifter in the world. When the Air Force needs a lot of tonnage moved quickly, the C-5 is what it turns to.
4. Boeing 747 Dreamlifter
Credit: Yamaguchi Yoshiaki & Altair78/Wikimedia Commons
In the 2000s Boeing found that it needed a cargo plane with an enormous amount of storage to transport components for the 787 Dreamliner, which has parts made all over the world. The solution was to take its biggest plane, the 747, and build a custom cargo hold around it.
At 65,000 cubic feet, the Dreamlifter has the largest cargo hold in the world, capable of carrying three times the volume of a 747-400F freighter. The four Dreamlifters Boeing made also use the longest cargo loader in the world, and can haul payloads up to 125 tons.
5. Antonov An-124 Ruslan
Credit: Sergey Kustov/Wikimedia Commons
Another monster designed and built by the Antonov Design Bureau in the Ukrainian SSR, the An-124 Ruslan, operated by the Russian Air Force, is the largest military aircraft in the world. For almost 30 years after its introduction in 1984, the An-124 (NATO reporting name: Condor), was the largest and heaviest cargo aircraft in the world other than the single An-225. The 747-8F overtook the An-124 in 2011.
With a reported payload capacity of 165 tons, the An-124 can haul even more than the C-5 Galaxy, though its range is not as long. A surviving engineering triumph of the Soviets, the An-124 continues to fly airlifting missions for Russia.
6. Boeing B-52 Stratofortress
Credit: Sarah E. Shaw/Wikimedia Commons
The B-52 entered service in 1955, and the first B-52H, the currently serving model, was introduced in 1961. B-52 bomber is the grandfather of the air force, aging but still capable of delivering a serious punch.
The BUFF (Big Ugly Fat Fucker) can carry 70,000 pounds of weapons, from precision-guided conventional bombs to nuclear warheads. While the B-2 stealth bomber and B-1 supersonic bomber could be retired when the B-21 is introduced, the Air Force wants to outfit the reliable B-52 with new engines to improve efficiency and range. While the giant bomber enters its sixth decade of service, the technology within its hold is ever-evolving, as the Air Force is also planning to equip the B-52 with the Long Range Stand Off missile, a stealthy nuclear cruise missile.
7. Airbus Beluga
Credit: Gyrostat/Wikimedia Commons
The Airbus A300-600 Super Transporter, commonly called the Beluga, was designed specifically to transport large and awkward aircraft parts, similar to the Dreamlifter. Entering service in 1995, the aircraft largely replaced the Super Guppy, serving European needs for large air cargo.
Different parts of the craft were designed and built by Airbus engineers across Europe, in countries including the U.K., Germany, France, and Spain. It's 124-foot long payload bay can carry almost 52 tons.
8. Boeing 747
Credit: NASA/Carla Thomas/Wikimedia Commons
The Dreamlifter is already on the list, but it only represents a small part of the accomplishments of the Queen of the Skies. Over 1,500 Boeing 747s have been built, serving as one of the largest passenger and cargo aircraft in the world (the 747-8 is the latest model), as a military command center in the sky, Air Force One, a space shuttle lifter and infrared telescope flier for NASA, and Iron Maiden even has one called Ed Force One.
The aircraft is being phased out of airlines in favor of single-aisle designs that can now fly with enough range to cross the oceans. But as the only U.S. mass manufactured four-engine jumbo jet, the Boeing 747 has some years in it yet.
9. Boeing C-17 Globemaster III
Credit: Brett Clashman/Wikimedia Commons
The C-5 Galaxy may be the United States' biggest military plane, but the C-17 Globemaster is the primary workhorse. The aircraft took its first flight in 1991, and 279 of Globemasters have been built since.
The C-17 airlifter can haul about 85 and a half tons into the sky, flying missions around the world to transport troops and cargo, perform airlifts and medical evacuations, and fly airdrop routes.
10. Airbus A380
Credit: Cj.oswald/Wikimedia Commons
The Airbus A380 is the European 747, and the A380-800 is the largest passenger aircraft ever made, with room for 850 passengers. It flies some of the longest routes around the planet, but like the 747 may be starting to get replaced with smaller planes with similar range.
A380 production continues as Airbus has built 222 and counting, 101 of those already delivered to the largest customer, Emirates. The Airbus A380 is truly the world's flying bus, flying more people at a time than any other plane in history.
11. McDonnell Douglas KC-10 Extender
Credit: Lt. j.g. Kyle Terwilliger/Wikimedia Commons
The largest fuel capacity tanker aircraft in the world entered service in 1981. The KC-10 Extender has a total fuel capacity of 52,250 gallons, or about 175 tons of fuel. It was designed to provide a more capable tanker than the Boeing KC-135, which was about 25 years old at that point.
The Air Force is in the process of acquiring a new tanker, the Boeing KC-46 Pegasus, which will be more efficient and have more advanced avionics than the KC-10, but the trijet Extender will still have the Pegasus beat on fuel capacity by about 70 tons. The KC-10 stores jet fuel in three main wing tanks as well as large fuel tanks under the cargo floor. It can alternatively be flown with a crew of 75 and 73 tons of cargo, or 85 tons of cargo in an all-cargo configuration.
Credit: Stratolaunch Systems
Paul Allen's Stratolaunch has yet to fly, so we cannot say it dominates the skies just yet, but it certainly is a monster plane. The composite six-engine, twin-fuselage aircraft designed and built by Scaled Composites has the longest wingspan in the world, 385 feet from tip to tip. If you placed Stratolaunch on a football field, the wings would extend through the goalposts an extra 12.5 feet on both sides.
The aircraft is designed to carry rockets up into the stratosphere and drop them, where they would then launch to space. The alternative to conventional rocket launches could conserve some of the fuel needed to overcome all of Earth's gravity from sea level into orbit, and launch small rockets at a rapid pace (Stratolaunch could carry as many as three small launch vehicles at a time). Virgin Orbit is working on a similar plan to launch rockets using a 747-400.
Stratolaunch recently conducted low-speed runway tests, the first time it moved under the power of its six Pratt & Whitney turbofans. High-speed runway tests are next, and when this plane eventually takes to the skies, it will be the biggest monster of them all.
Top image: Lockheed C-5 Galaxy. Credit: Jakub Nanowski/Jetphotos.
[Source: Popular Mechanics. Some images and links added.]