There can be many criteria to decide what defines the “biggest” airplanes, so for our purposes we will narrow things down to physical size, cargo space, passengers carried, and wingspan. Every airplane is designed for a specific purpose, so no single factor can be used to claim the title. As it turns out, the select five that made the cut come from 5 different countries, and from 4 different decades of aerospace engineering. It just worked out that way. Because of the criteria used, the selections are in no particular order or ranking.
1. Antonov An-225 Mriya
Built in the 1980’s as the result of a Soviet Union-Ukrainian joint effort (the Soviets were in control of the Ukraine at the time) it is claimed to be the world’s largest aircraft in existence today – bar none. Powered by 6 turbofan jet engines it can take off carrying more than a quarter of a million pounds of cargo, which is its current use. It claims the honor of having the largest wingspan of any aircraft currently flying at 290 feet, almost the length of a football field. There is only one ever produced, though there is a second one sitting in production with no timetable of completion.
2. Dornier Do X
This monster aircraft was developed by Germany in 1929 and actually carried more tonnage than the Antonov An-225 Mriya that came along a decade later. Dornier was Germany’s premier airplane manufacturer of the time, and it was never intended to be a “war machine.” Its main purpose was to be a passenger plane, carrying as many as 100 passengers on short trips. Also, it could accommodate 66 passengers on longer hops. It actually looks like a flying boat with 8 propellers, which seems to be an accurate description.
3. Antonov An-124
This is another Soviet Union-Ukrainian joint effort that ended up being the forerunner of the Antonov An-225 Mriya. Designed by the Ukraine’s Antonov Design Bureau, it was built as a strategic cargo aircraft, meaning its primary purpose was delivery of military cargo. It currently holds the title of being the world’s largest military transport aircraft, making it a necessary inclusion on this list. Unlike the Mriya, there are 26 of these aircraft flying the skies. This attests to both its usefulness and practicality. It demonstrates that while building huge aircraft can be an expensive venture for government or business, i can be money well-invested.
4. Airbus A380
The Airbus A380 has many unique claims to fame here, including being the world’s largest passenger aircraft capable of carrying 525 passengers. But Airbus is a multinational company, all European, and its double-decked design is unique in aircraft design. It first made its appearance in 2005, and currently has more than 225 operational, If you are interested in taking a flight in one, the three airlines that are the biggest customers of Airbus are Singapore Airlines,
Lufthansa, and Emirates (which has an actual in-flight shower for 1st class passengers).
5. Boeing 747 Large Cargo Freighter
The American entry that ends the list, this variation of the Boing 747 is used to transport the fuselage sections and wings of Boeing’s passenger aircraft, the 787 Dreamliner. It is also appropriately named the Dreamlifter. There are 4 of them, all refitted to allow carriage of the 787’s parts. It can carry a bit more than 800,000 pounds of cargo and has a wingspan of 211 feet.
Which can actually claim it is the biggest? When it comes to passengers, the Airbus wins hands down despite the claims of other countries whose planes were intended primarily for cargo use. In terms of sheer size, that award goes to the Antonov An-225 Mriya simply because the majority of aircraft aficionados give it the nod. The country of Germany gets the award because it was the first to successfully design and build such a model – in peacetime. (It was between wars at the time.)
It should be noted that this list gave the Ukraine credit for designing and building the Antonov An-124 despite it being a joint venture. It only seems right, especially given today’s political landscape. As for the Boeing Dreamlifter, it is an example of the American approach to business because who builds an even bigger plane to carry the parts of another huge plane?