These Large Planes Make Us Wonder How They Even Flew

Photo Credit: Musa SalgereyevTASS via Getty Images
Photo Credit: Musa SalgereyevTASS via Getty Images

As with every extreme machine list, equipment designed for the military ranks high up in comparison to civilian equipment that often has much less demanding requirements. In this list, we will look at some of the largest military aircraft ever produced, ranging from the 1940s all the way up to the monsters of today. Get a load of these large planes!

1. Convair B-36 Peacemaker

American Convair B.36D 'Peacemaker' strategic bombers under construction at the Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation's plant in Fort Worth, texas, 17th January 1951
The aircraft had to be angled to accommodate their 230-foot wingspans. (Photo Credit: FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The Peacemaker is a huge aircraft with an equally huge list of records, including still holding the title of the largest mass-produced piston engine aircraft in history, the longest wingspan of any combat aircraft (230 feet), the first truly intercontinental bomber, and the first bomber to be able to carry any of America’s nuclear weapons arsenal without modifications.

Keeping this 200-ton beast in the air were six Pratt & Whitney 28-cylinder radial engines that produced 3,800 horsepower each, and a further four General Electric turbojet engines. Despite its impressive specifications, it had a rather lackluster career, bridging the gap between piston engines of old and high-speed jet bombers. It served between 1949 and 1959.

2. Caspian Sea Monster

Sketch of the caspian sea monster
Scanned drawing of the Caspian Sea Monster. (Photo Credit: К.Е.Сергеев / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Caspian Sea Monster, while not strictly an aircraft by traditional metrics, held the title of largest and heaviest aircraft for 20 years between 1966 to 1988.

It was an experimental Soviet aircraft that used the ground effect to carry vast amounts of equipment and cargo at high speeds across the ocean. It weighed 600 tons (1.2 million pounds) but could still travel at over 300 miles per hour.

A close relative of the Caspian Sea Monster, the Lun ekranoplan ground effect vehicle. (Photo Credit: Musa SalgereyevTASS via Getty Images)
A close relative of the Caspian Sea Monster, the Lun ekranoplan ground effect vehicle. (Photo Credit: Musa Salgereyev\TASS via Getty Images)

It essentially combined the cargo capability of a ship with the speed of an aircraft. Its surprise discovery on U.S. spy images dumbfounded U.S. intelligence. By the time they discovered its true purpose, it had already been destroyed in a crash.

3. Antonov AN-225 Mriya

No large aircraft list is complete without the AN-225. This absolute marvel of Soviet engineering is the largest and heaviest aircraft ever built. Its maximum take-off weight is 700 tons, and it can carry just shy of 300 tons of cargo in its 43-meter cargo hold. Its hold is so large that the first flight of the Wright brothers could have been performed entirely inside it.

The largest plane, AN-225 with its nose open
Photo Credit: Francois Nascimbeni/AFP via Getty Images

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 put in storage for 8 years, before being put into commercial use, which it continues today.

4. Blohm & Voss BV 238

Bundesarchiv photo of the Blohm & Voss
Photo Credit: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-667-7143-02 / Hoffmann / CC-BY-SA 3.0

The BV 238 was the Third Reich’s attempt at a giant aircraft. It was the largest they made during their time in power, and the heaviest aircraft in the world at the time it was built.

This 43-meter-long flying boat weighed 110 tons and was powered by six Daimler-Benz V-12 piston engines. One complete aircraft was made as a prototype, but it was sunk while moored in Lake Schaal, Germany. Other aircraft were being built when the war ended.

5. XB-70 Valkyrie

XB 70A at an airbase
XB-70A parked on a ramp at Edwards Air Force Base in 1967. (Photo Credit: NASA)

The XB-70 is probably the most incredible aircraft that never was. North American Aviation developed this insane machine during the 1950s and first flew it in 1964. Its purpose was as a prototype for the planned B-70 nuclear bomber, capable of flying at 2,000 mph at 70,000 feet, too fast and high for any interceptor.

At the time, these capabilities made the Valkyrie virtually immune to any interception, but the introduction of surface-to-air missiles significantly reduced its invulnerability. On top of this, intercontinental ballistic missiles coming into use essentially ended the project outright.

Two prototypes were built, which were then used to test high-speed flight. It was in this role that one of the prototypes was destroyed in a crash. The other was eventually flown to the National Museum of the United States Air Force in 1969, where it remains today.

6. Hughes H-4 Hercules

This huge flying boat was another one of American billionaire Howard Hughes’ creations. The Hercules was made mostly from wood, earning it the name the “Spruce Goose.”

Six times larger than any aircraft of its time, the Spruce Goose, also known as the Hughes Flying Boat, is made entirely of wood circa 1980 in Los Angeles.
Photo Credit: Bret Lundberg/Images Press/Getty Images

It was designed as a cargo aircraft that could fly over the Atlantic during WWII, but its delayed development meant it wasn’t finished until 1947. It was the largest aircraft ever built at the time, and its 98-meter wingspan is only beaten today by the Scaled Composites Stratolaunch.

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Hughes had used large amounts of government funding for the aircraft and was called to testify in front of a committee in 1947.

To prove the funds were not wasted, he managed to make a single one-mile-long flight at a height of about 70 feet. After touching back down, he parked the Spruce Goose in a climate-controlled hangar and had it kept in flying condition by a secret team for the next 30 years. It only ever flew once.

Jesse Beckett

Jesse Beckett is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE