- Airlines have been moving toward more flights with smaller aircraft, rather than fewer flights with bigger planes, but the biggest passenger planes in the history of aviation continue to fly today — and likely will for years to come.
- Alongside them, gigantic cargo planes, purpose-built commercial aircraft, and military transport jets are all still needed to move shipments and equipment around the world.
- Read on to take a look at the biggest planes that are in service today, from the spacious and comfortable A380, to the minimalistic, revolutionary Stratolaunch.
Over the past half-decade, the world's airlines have increasingly found that smaller is better for long-haul flying.
Rather than moving a ton of passengers at once in behemoth planes, the better option is to offer more flights, to more places, on smaller, more fuel-efficient aircraft.
However, the world's biggest planes won't disappear anytime soon. The biggest passenger jets ever built — which are set to continue flying for years to come — commercial freighters and military transport planes continue to reach new heights (and lengths, wingspans, and weights).
These aircraft are all marvels of modern engineering from, from customized jets built to haul parts for newer aircraft, to double-decker passenger planes that can carry more passengers from ever before.
Read on for the biggest planes that grace the skies today.
Antonov An-225 Mirya
The largest plane in the world, only one of these massive cargo jets was ever built. Its first flight was in December 1988, and it remains in service today.
Scaled Composites Model 351 Stratolaunch
The Stratolaunch is an unusual looking plane, with six engines, a twin-fuselage, and the longest wingspan of any plane in history at 385 feet.
The Stratolaunch first flew in April, 2019, and will act as a flying launch platform for rockets heading to orbit.
Airbus A330-743L "Beluga XL"
The A330-743L, or as it's affectionately known, the "Beluga XL," is based off of Airbus' A330-200 airliner, but heavily modified to carry oversized cargo like parts for smaller aircraft. It first flew in July 2018, and is expected to enter regular service by 2020.
Airbus A300-600ST Beluga
The Airbus A300-600ST (Super Transporter), or "Beluga" is the predecessor to the Beluga XL, which is intended to replace the aging originals. It first flew in September, 1994, and all five of the jets that were built remain in service today. It's very slightly shorter and narrower than the Beluga XL, and can't carry as heavy of a payload.
The Airbus A380, Airbus' modern response to Boeing's famed 747, is the largest passenger plane ever built. Depending on the seat layout, the plane can carry as many as about 850 passengers, but the typical is closer to around 575.
The plane entered commercial service in 2007, representing Airbus' gamble that a "hub-and-spoke" model would be the future of commercial air travel.
However, as airlines have moved more towards offering more frequent direct point-to-point flights with smaller, more fuel-efficient aircraft Airbus has announced that A380 production will end by 2021.
The 747-8 is the latest and largest variant of Boeing's beloved 747. The -8 first flew in 2010, entering cargo service in 2011 and passenger service in 2012. It can carry up to 467 passengers in a three-class configuration, and has a range of more than 8,000 nautical miles.
The Antonov An-124 is typically used for cargo and military airlifts. It first flew in 1982, and is among the largest military aircraft ever.
The An-22, which first flew in 1965, remains the largest turbo-prop powered plane ever built. A civilian cargo and military transport aircraft, only a few planes remain in service, mostly with the Russian Air Force.
The -600 variant of the venerable A340 was the longest commercial aircraft until 2010, when the Boeing 747-8 took that title — it's slightly longer than even the Airbus A380. It first flew in 2001, and can carry 379 passengers in a typical three-class layout.
Boeing 747 "Dreamlifter"
The Dreamlifter was built on a modified 747-400 airframe with an enlarged body. It's used to transport parts for Boeing's 787 aircraft from component suppliers to Boeing's assembly plants.
Lockheed C-5 Galaxy
The C-5 Galaxy is a military transport aircraft that first flew in 1968. It's been used to support military operations around the world, and to distribute humanitarian aid and help during evacuations.
The Tupolev Tu-160 is the largest and heaviest combat aircraft currently flying. The plane, which had its first flight in 1981 but didn't enter service until 1987, is flown exclusively by the Russian Air Force.