If you were to travel back in time and tell the people of the 1700s that there would be vehicles that could fly up the sky like birds and could transport hundreds of people, they’d probably think you’re a witch and burn you on a stake.
As they say, something is impossible until somebody does it. Since the Wright Brothers successfully flew their Kitty Hawk on that historical day of December 17, 1903, we’ve gone so far in testing the limit of what we could and could not do with our aircraft. Apart from creating the fastest planes, we could ever do, one of our fascinations was producing the largest ones. Here are some of the largest military aircraft made so far.
Convair B-36 Peacemaker
Not only is the Peacemaker a gigantic aircraft, but it also holds the title of the largest mass-produced piston engine aircraft ever to fly. That’s just one because it also has the longest wingspan of any combat aircraft, measuring 230 feet (70 meters), the first truly intercontinental bomber, and the very first bomber to carry any of the United States’ nuclear weapons arsenal without any modifications.
This strategic bomber was built by Convair and used by the United States Air Force from 1949 to 1959. It has a range of 10,000 miles and a maximum payload of 87,200 pounds, thus the reason why it could go on an intercontinental flight without having to refuel. If you’re wondering how this 200-ton giant thing could fly, it was because of the six Pratt & Whitney 28-cylinder radial engines that produced 3,800 horsepower each, plus four more General Electric turbojet engines.
The B-36 used to be the primary nuclear weapons delivery vehicle of the Strategic Air Command until the jet-powered Boeing B-52 Stratofortress took its place starting in 1955.
Caspian Sea Monster
Although the Korabl Market (KM) was not strictly an aircraft, this experimental ground effect vehicle developed in the Soviet Union was the most prominent and heaviest aircraft for twenty years, from 1966 to 1988. The Central Hydrofoil Design Bureau conceived the Caspian Sea Monster, as it was colloquially known, in the 1960s.
When the United States discovered its existence through a spy plane, attempts were made to determine its purpose, and some espionage circled through it during the Cold War era.
The Caspian Sea Monster weighed 600 tons and could travel at an impressive speed of 340 miles per hour. What was unique about it was that it combined the cargo capabilities of a ship and the speed of an aircraft. Technically speaking, it’s actually considered a ship rather than an aircraft. A ship with 8 jet engines that flies 5 feet above the water.
Two of the “Lun” ekranoplans were built, one was armed with 6 nuclear cruise missiles and the other was fitted out for cargo and was able to carry an incredible 1,000 fully equipped Marines.
Unfortunately, by the time the CIA had discovered its purpose, the cargo version of the giant monster had already crashed into the Caspian Sea.
Antonov AN-225 Mriya
This list will not be complete without the Antonov AN-225 Mriya of the Soviet Union. This strategic airlift cargo aircraft was designed by the Antonov Design Bureau in the 1980s and is the largest and heaviest aircraft ever built. Its take-off weight is 700 tons, and it can carry 300 tons of cargo in its massive 43-meter cargo hold. To put things into perspective, its cargo hold was spacious enough for the Wright brother’s first flight to be performed inside it.
The AN-225 was initially built to transport spacecraft from the Buran program, the Soviet version of the Space Shuttle. It was stored for eight years after its purpose was fulfilled until they decided to use it for commercial purposes, which has continued until recently.
The AN-225’s original purpose was to transport spacecraft from the Buran program, the Soviet equivalent of the Space Shuttle. After its purpose was complete, it was stored for eight years before being put into commercial use, which continued under Antonov Airlines.
The Mriya is a multiple record holder, too. Aside from being the heaviest aircraft ever built, it also has the largest wingspan among the operational service aircraft, among its 124 world records. It could also be considered an airplane celebrity since people often visit airports to see their arrivals and departures.
Just recently, Mriya was destroyed in the ongoing Ukraine-Russia war, but Ukraine has not given up on Mriya, or “The Dream,” just yet. According to reports, Ukrainian President Zelensky announced they would build another Mriya to replace the one wrecked at an airfield near Kyiv just last February.