Since the early days of flight, humankind has been steadily improving the size and speed of aircraft. These 11 of the world's biggest planes mark the pinnacle of our current technical abilities to take to the skies.
See Also: 9 of the World's Largest Ships
From the mighty "Spruce Goose" to the yet to be proven Stratolaunch, these aircraft are incredible feats of engineering.
The following list has been sorted by wingspan and although there are some bigger ones out there, we have opted to include some of our favorites instead.
1. The "Spruce Goose" still has the biggest wingspan of any plane that flew
Wingspan: 97.54 meters
Length: 66.65 meters
Empty Weight: 113,399 kg
The Hughes H-4 Hercules "Spruce Goose" still holds the record for the biggest wingspan of any plane that has taken to the air. She was built as a prototype strategic airlift flying boat and was built by the famous Hughes Aircraft Company.
Sporting an impressive 8 Pratt and Whitney R-4360 Wasp radial engines, she was only able to make a brief test flight in 1947. It had been intended for the aircraft to be deployed during WW2 but the project was never officially completed.
This beast of an airplane was one of a kind. Estimates are that the project cost around $250 Million - which was a fortune at the time.
2. The Antonov An-225 Mriya is a monster
Wingspan: 88.4 meters
Length: 84 meters
Empty Weight: 285,000 kg
She is a Soviet-era Super Heavy Transporter and a record-breaking one at that. Being almost as long as her wingspan, it was codenamed "Cossack" by NATO forces during the Cold War.
The An-225 is, to date, the longest and heaviest aircraft to ever take to the air. It first flew in 1988 where it completed a 74-minute flight from Kiev.
After the inevitable collapse of the Soviet Union, the Antonov An-225 was grounded and mothballed for many years. Later purchased by Ukraine, and has been in active service ever since as a transporter.
She is also a fond favorite at airshows around the world.
3. The Airbus A380-800 is the world's biggest passenger plane
Wingspan: 79.75 meters
Length: 72.72 meters
Empty Weight: 277,000 kg
The Airbus A380-800 is the biggest passenger airliner in the world. Designed as a double-decker plane, she was built to cram more passengers into a single plane per flight to alleviate congestion at major air hubs.
At least that was the theory. Of the 850 passenger capacity, it is theoretically capable of holding, most operators have opted for its 450 to 550 passenger layout.
It first flew in April of 2005 and officially entered commercial service in 2007.
By far its biggest customer is the Dubai-based Emirates Airlines. Other than that it has had disappointing sales among other operators. So much so, in fact, that Airbus recently advised they will be ceasing production from 2021.
4. The Antonov An-124 is the Mriya's little sister
Wingspan: 73.3 meters
Length: 68.96 meters
Empty Weight: 175,000 kg
The Antonov An-124 was the product of the same company who produced the mighty An-225. She is the world's largest military transporter and was, for a time, the heaviest mass-produced aircraft.
Her first flight was in 1982 and was put into active service in 1986. Dubbed the "Condor" by NATO during the Cold War, and 55 in total were built until production ceased in 2004.
She is currently still in service for the Russian Air Force and is also in service for several cargo operators.
5. The Boeing 747-8 is the latest in the line of a classic
Wingspan: 68.4 meters
Length: 76.3 meters
Empty Weight: 220,128 kg
Designed and built by Boeing, the 747-8 has been in active service since 2011. Built on the classic design of the venerable 747 series, the 747-8 has been lengthened, had new wings, new engines, and overall improved efficiency compared to its ancestors.
Its first flight was in 2010, and the commercially available aircraft comes in two variants - the 747-8 for passengers and the 747-8F for cargo transport.
Whilst she is surpassed in wingspan by the Airbus A380, not to mention passenger capacity, the 747-8 is the longest of all airlines currently in operation.
6. The Lockheed Galaxy C-5 has been in service for almost 50 years
Wingspan: 67.89 meters
Length: 75.31 meters
Empty Weight: 172,371 kg
Surpassed only in weight and wingspan by the Antonov An-124, the Lockheed Galaxy C-5 is the largest military transporter in the world (by length). She is currently in operation by the USAF for intercontinental-range strategic airlift operations and oversized load transportation.
The C-5 is something of an OAP amongst the largest planes in the world and was first flown in 1968. She officially entered active service in 1970.
That's almost 50 years of unwavering service to the USAF.
This venerable aircraft has an impressive cargo capacity. It is capable of transporting up to five Apache gunship helicopters or if you prefer, two M1 main battle tanks!
That is impressive.
7. The Boeing 747 Dreamlifter has the second largest cargo hold of any plane
Wingspan: 64.4 meters
Length: 71.68 meters
Empty Weight: 180,530 kg
It's a little-known fact that 747's are born midflight from Boeing Dreamlifters! Come on you thought the same.
In all seriousness, the Boeing 747 Dreamlifter had, for a time, the largest cargo hold of any plane in the world. It was only surpassed by the Airbus Beluga XL but is on our list as it is longer, heavier and has a larger wingspan than the Beluga.
The Dreamlifter first took to the air in 2006 and entered active service in 2007. Since then Boeing has produced a total of 4 of these monsters.
Interestingly, the Dreamlifter is loaded by the world's longest cargo in the world.
8. Decimate your enemies with the B-52 Stratofortress
Wingspan: 56.4 meters
Length: 48.5 meters
Empty Weight: 83,250 kg
Yes there are longer planes, and yes there are ones with bigger wingspans, and dare we say heavier, but the Boeing B-52 is a legend. Not only that, but this enormous strategic bomber is something of a living fossil from times gone by.
It first flew in 1952 and first officially entered service in 1955. Since then the B-52 has remained in active service with USAF. Being a bomber, it can carry an enormous payload of destructive potential.
Her bomb bays are capable of holding 32,000 kg of the ordinance over 14,080 km without the need to refuel. To date, Boeing has built well over 740 of these monsters.
"Death from above" has never been more accurate when applied to anything, ever in history. Except for maybe nukes.
9. The Tupolev Tu-160 is the largest Mach 2+ plane in the air
Wingspan: 55.7 meters
Length: 54.1 meters
Empty Weight: 110,000 kg
Having first flown in 1981, the Tupolev Tu-160 is one of the most unique aircraft in the world. She entered service in 1987 and has become a legend in its own lifetime.
Designed as a strategic bomber, it is the largest supersonic aircraft and largest swept-wing aircraft in the world. There are estimated to be around 16 in current service for the Russian Air Force.
Dubbed "Blackjack" by NATO, the Tu-160 the largest and heaviest Mach 2+ aircraft ever built. She is also the fastest bomber in the world.
Although almost thirty years old, the Tu-160 has undergone something of a facelift in recent years. It's current version, the Tu-160M2 was unveiled in 2017.
10. The "Super Guppy" is loved by NASA
Wingspan: 47.63 meters
Length: 43.84 meters
Empty Weight: 46,039 kg
Like the B-52 above, we've included this old-time simply because it is such a special aircraft.
The Aero Spacelines "Super Guppy" first flew in 1965 and is still in active service today. Over the years only five were ever built over two variants.
She was in service by various operators over the years but has been largely retired in recent years. Since the development and release of the Airbus Beluga, the Super Guppy has been replaced, but it is still loved by NASA.
NASA found that the Guppy's wide dimensions are simply perfect for transporting their spacecraft and rocket components. It seems she might be with us for some time yet.
11. The Stratolaunch will beat the "Spruce Goose" once flown
Wingspan: 117 meters
Length: 73 meters
Empty Weight: 226,796 kg
And last, but by no means least, is the up and coming Stratolaunch. Despite its impressive wingspan and length, this aircraft is yet to be tested in the air.
Once it does finally take off, it will instantly become the largest wingspan aircraft of all time. This event will finally knock the mighty Hughes H-4 Hercules of its pole position.
The project behind it was founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and is one of the most unique aircraft designs ever.
Composing of two fuselages fused together with an enormous wing, the plane is has been designed to meet the needs of the private space industry. The idea is to use is it as a flying launch platform to get payloads into orbit.
For this reason alone we have been forced to put it last. The latest news is that it is scheduled for test flights in 2019 with the goal of commercial launch by 2020.