It’s been said that the first world war played a vital role in the advancement of aircraft technology because of the need for faster, tougher and, of course, bigger planes. Since then, a myriad of aircraft designs has come out to address more modern (and peaceful) needs—some even larger than the ones that came before it.
Let’s take a look at seven of the largest aircraft mankind has ever built.
Tupolev ANT-20 Maxim Gorky
Built in the 1930s, the ANT-20 was an eight-engine aircraft designed by Andrei Tupolev for the Soviet Union.
It was meant to be used for Stalinist propaganda so it was loaded with a powerful radio aptly named “Voice from the Sky”. It also carried printing machinery, radio stations, a library and a film projector with sound to play movies while in flight. You can only imagine how big the aircraft was to be able to carry all of these items.
The aircraft also featured a ladder that could fold and be part of the plane’s floor—a first in aviation history.
Hughes H-4 Hercules Spruce Goose
This heavy transport aircraft prototype was designed and produced by Hughes Aircraft to address the need for a plane that was large enough to carry a massive payload across the Atlantic and deliver personnel and materiel to Britain.
Due to wartime restrictions on aluminum usage, the H-4 was built virtually entirely out of birch—which makes you wonder why critics gave it “Spruce Goose” as a nickname.
It made its first and only flight in 1947. The project never progressed.
Messerschmitt Me 323 Gigant
First introduced in 1943, the Me 323 is the six-engine powered version of the Me 321 military glider. It was produced as an answer for Germany’s need for a massive assault aircraft that would also be able to carry vehicles and other heavy equipment.
The Me 323 was considered to be the largest land-based aircraft of its kind at the time
Myasishchev VM-T Atlant
Flown for the first time in 1981, the VM-T Atlant strategic airlift airplane was designed by the Soviet V. M. Myasishchev Experimental Design Bureau to address the issue of moving rockets and other massive spacecraft to the Baikonur Cosmodrome. It was a derivative of the M-4 Molot bomber produced by the same group.
It is interesting to note that while other carriers travel with their load inside the plane, the VM-T Atlant literally carries them on its back—even those that are heavier and more massive than itself.
Boeing B-29 Superfortress
This list wouldn’t be complete without the heavy bomber that became famous for restoring peace by ending World War II: the B-29 Superfortress. It was one of the more advanced aircraft of its time with handy features such as remote-controlled machine gun turrets, an electronic fire-control system and a pressurized cabin.
It was first flown in 1942 and was produced between 1943 and 1946. It was officially retired in June of 1960, over a decade after the war ended.
Lockheed C-5 Galaxy
This plane is a huge military transport aircraft with intercontinental-range and strategic airlift capabilities. It was produced by Lockheed and is still being used by the United States Air Force (USAF) to move outsize and oversize cargo today.
It was first flown in 1968 and has been in the service of the USAF since 1969. It has seen its fair share of action in the battlefield, but has also been used for disaster relief and humanitarian aid throughout the years.
Antonov An-225 Mriya
Let’s cap this list off with arguably the biggest aircraft ever created: the six-engine An-225. It’s so big that some claim you could fit at least two full-sized aircraft museums in it. It was designed in the 1980s by the Antonov Design Bureau as a bigger version of the highly successful An-124 Ruslan.
It was originally built to carry the boosters of the The Buran Space Shuttle and the boosters of the Energia Rocket for the Soviet space program.
A second An-225 was built after the first one was completed in 1988. Unfortunately, the second plane was never completed. So, there is technically just one functional An-225 in the world today.