The Biggest Planes In Military History
There's nothing scarier than seeing a military plane headed your way, the thought of that is intimidating enough, however, you throw the fact that it's a huge plane into the mix and now you've got a problem. As much as military planes want to be stealthy, there are some scenarios where bigger is better as it allows them to carry more cargo, and for the plane to be more durable. Most people only know of the sexy and sleek kind of military planes that are meant to look like they come out of a Batman movie, however, read through this gallery and find out a little more about some of these bigger military planes that are equally as intimidating.
Antonov An-255 Mriya
The Antonov An-255 Mriya is a huge aircraft that has a total length of 84 meters, and a maximum takeoff weight of 640 tonnes. This made the An-255 the heaviest and longest aircraft ever made, though that didn't stop it from being effective.
The aircraft was initially designed by the Antonov Design Bureau to facilitate transportation for the Buran spaceline but it was converted to a commercial cargo aircraft after the Buran program ended. This aircraft model set the heaviest item sent via air freight record in 2009 when it lifted a 189-tonnes American gas power plant.
Messerschmitt Me 323 Gigant
The Messerschmitt Me 323 Gigant was nicknamed the WWII German Transport, and it managed to live up to its name and the hype that surrounded it. The Gigant was designed as a transport glider at first but then the airframe was fitted with six radial engines that allowed it to lift an 88mm gun or a Panzer IV.
This aircraft model was quite famous at the time and was used in campaigns worldwide even though it wasn’t quick. This aircraft was practically a bus on wheels, a design that wouldn't work today, but back then it was intimidating.
The Tupolev ANT-20 is a Soviet aircraft model as its name suggests. This model was designed by Soviet engineers who wanted to make a "Voice in the Sky" so they’d get to broadcast Soviet propaganda.
The first model that was completed was named after Maxim Gorky, a Soviet writer, and the model also came equipped with a printing press, a film projector with sound, a library, and a radio station. Unfortunately, the first model crashed during a demonstration and killed 45 people.
Linke Hoffman R.II
The Linke Hoffman R.II is one of the more unique aircraft models we’ve talked about so far. First of all, the R.II model is really a regular biplane that got blown up a couple of times to three times its regular size. The Linke Hoffman R.II model is an older German-built offering that was designed in 1917, the inspiration was to create something large and sturdy.
The two prototypes built failed to pass the flying test and both logged underwhelming performances because wood was the main material used in making the airframe. The structure was too weak so both prototypes crashed during their test flights in 1919, and the model was discontinued for good.
The Tupolev Tu-160 stands out as the biggest combat aircraft ever built, it's also the biggest supersonic aircraft ever built. Built as a strategic bomber, this swing-wing aircraft model was the last model built in its class, and it was built for a purpose similar to the one the American B-1 Lancer was built for.
To date, the Russian federation remains fond of the Tupolev Tu-160 so it is still used in the country. It's not unusual for the Tupolev to be used to carry out attacks on ISIS targets.
The MiL V-12 aircraft model is a remarkable aircraft, and the largest helicopter ever manufactured. It features two enormous rotors that get their power from four turbine engines, this powertrain is enough to help the V-12 haul more than 40,000 kilos of cargo.
The story of the V-12 is a surprising success story as the model managed to trump expectations and perform beyond what its design specifications suggested. The prototypes of the MiL V-12 also managed to set numerous cargo-lifting world records.
This aircraft model was created in the early 50s as a heavy-lifting helicopter for the US military. At its peak, the XH-17 was a remarkable sight to behold thanks to a single 39.6-meter rotor operated by tip jets and not the usual drive shaft.
This layout enabled the XH-17 model to haul over 4,500 kg without breaking a sweat, and the unique layout also managed to reduce torque with the only problem being the degradation of efficiency that restricted the aircraft to 40 miles per tank.
LZ 129 Hindenburg
The LZ 129 Hindenburg is one of the most famous large aircraft models in the world so not talking about this aircraft model on this list would be a grave error. The Hindenburg is the largest single aircraft to fly, standing at 245 meters long and 40 meters high.
This well-known aircraft model was designed as a passenger airship to cover transatlantic trips but unfortunately, the Hindenburg disaster means the model’s reputation has been stained remarkably. The model was also used as a Nazi propaganda tool for spreading radio speeches and leaflets.
Hughes H-4 Hercules
The Hughes H-4 Hercules is also called the "Spruce Goose," a model that was built as a transatlantic transport craft during the Second World War but unfortunately, the model’s construction wasn’t completed before the war ended.
The H-4 Hercules has a shaky history even though its only been flown once but it remains the biggest flying boat ever made. It also holds the record for the longest aircraft wingspan at 97.5 meters. The H-4 Hercules project never made it past the single prototype produced.
Blohm & Voss BV 238
This model was called a very large flying boat, or flugboot, because it really is an extraordinary aircraft model. During the Second World War, this was the largest aircraft ever built by the Germans but unfortunately, only one unit was ever produced.
That unit’s first flight was logged in 1944, and it was the heaviest plane that was ever flown at that point. The BV 238 is so heavy that it easily weighs 60 tons even when it's completely empty.
While the Convair B-36’s "Peacemaker" nickname might suggest otherwise, this is a military aircraft model and strategic bomber that was built for anything but peace. The B-36 was constructed in the 1940s, and it logged its first flight in August 1946.
Shortly after the model logged its first flight hours, the B-36 became the main bomber and a strategic weapon of sorts for the United States Air Force. Yet, despite what the name implies, this unit has never really seen battle.
Apparently, the large aircraft bug went around nicely, and the Soviets were as fond of large aircraft after seeing others venture in that direction. The Ilyushin II-76 aircraft was one of the first jet cargo planes built by the Soviet Union, and it was particularly well-built.
Regardless of how bad the terrain or weather condition is, the Ilyushin II-76 was made to withstand the elements and terrain. The multipurpose aircraft was the first four-jet transport owned by Russia, and it was originally intended for moving military equipment through the most difficult conditions.
The Staaken R.VI is a relic from World War I that dates back to 1916. At the time, the Staaken was the biggest aircraft in the war, or at least the biggest that saw regular usage. It was designed as a strategic bomber and an additional 17 units of the model were made.
Some reputable engineers like Claudius Dornier and Alexander Baumann both worked on the first shield engineering team. The Staaken was at the very least, the largest wooden airplane in use.
The Boeing C-17 is one of the more memorable aircraft models on our list. The Globemaster III, as it's rightly called, is used as a cargo plane so it can land or take off on any terrain.
The C-17’s design was kicked off in the 80s by McDonnell Douglas but headway didn’t come quickly so the model’s first flight only happened in 1991. At the time, the single prototype had become famous so 250 units were produced so the model would be used globally.
Martin C-1307 Super
The Martin C-1307 is one of the rare planes on our list that are still in active service today. The Lockheed Martin C-1307 Super Hercules is still being used by the national air forces of as many as 14 countries.
It is a gigantic aircraft that was designed by Lockheed Martin himself. The model recorded its first flight in 1996, a couple of decades after the original Hercules made its first flight. Roughly 300 versions of this huge and superb aircraft model have been developed over the years.
The Kawanishi H8K is a welcome break from the other aircraft models because, unlike the others, this isn’t a Soviet or American model. Japan’s Kawanishi H8K aircraft was purposely built for the purpose of aiding patrol functions during the Second World War.
The historic attack on Pear Harbor by Japanese Imperial forces served as the theater where this historically huge model was used for the first time. Although its first flight was recorded in March 1942, the model had been in the works a year before and this was the biggest aircraft built by Japan during the war.
Like the Kawanishi H8K model above, the JRM Mars model can also be likened to a flying boat as a result of its monstrous size. This model was built in the US, and it is easily the biggest of the flying boats we’ve covered so far.
Seven units of this model were built from 1945 to 1948. The flying boat was built specifically for the US Navy during the course of the Second World War but it has been modified and replicated a number of times since.
The Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker was designed as an aircraft for aerial refueling. This model and the Boeing 707 airliner were both developed with inspiration from the Boeing 367-80 prototype, and they’re both the main models in the C-135 Stratolifter model family.
As a replacement for the Kc-97 Stratofreighter aircraft, the KC-135 model was the first jet-powered refueling tanker. It was a potent weapon for the US during the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm as it enabled the expansion of the range and endurance of American bombers and fighters.
McDonnell Douglas CF-18 Hornet
The F/A-18 platform inspired the design of the CF-18 aircraft. This model was built to serve many purposes and embark on varying missions. Its maximum speed is Mach 1.8, about 1,814 km/h, it also has a range of 3,330 kilometers.
The CF-18 Hornet is more than just a big airplane as it can climb at 50,000 feet per minute and comes equipped with a 20mm Vulcan gun that can fire 6,000 rounds per minute. It also carries air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles.
Canadair CF-104 Starfighter
Here’s another big Canadian aircraft model, the Canadair CF-104 Starfighter aircraft is essentially a redesign of the 1954 Lockheed fighter design. The model entered the Canadian military service in 1962 to fulfill the purpose of intercepting aircraft, which it was designed for.
This model was prevalently used in low-level strikes, its maximum range is 2,630 kilometers, and its maximum speed is 1,844 km/h. It was designed for the Canadian Military and used by the Royal Canadian Air Force as the fastest aircraft in their arsenal.
This historic model was China’s first operational airborne early warning and control aircraft. It bears some similarities with the American E-3 Sentry aircraft because it is essentially an II-76 aircraft modified to allow it to carry a disc-like radar.
The Chinese model is equipped with a sensor that allows it to detect the presence of aircraft from more than 300 miles out. And because it is a force multiplier, it also enhances other aircraft and detects hostiles from far away.
Xian H-6 Bomber
The Xian H-6 bomber aircraft was the first modern aircraft model in China’s arsenal, and it’s also the only heavy bomber. In the late 1950s, the H-6 Bomber was licensed from the Soviet Union, and several modifications and upgrades have been made to it since.
The Xian Bomber was initially designed to drop nuclear bombs but it has been made to serve other roles as well like being a missile tanker, refueling tanker, and conventional bomber. China used this model to break ice floes in the Yellow River.
Tu-154 Special Missions Aircraft
The Tu-154 Special Missions Aircraft was made to get close to aircraft and ships of foreign countries that get close to China. What it does once it gets close enough is to take photographs of the ships or aircraft.
These photos are taken in electromagnetic signals so they can be quickly broadcast. The Tu-154 SMA’s exterior look gives the vibe of a passenger plane but it’s actually a data-gathering and fact-finding aircraft that functions kind of like an ultrasound.
Junkers JU 390
Like a couple of other models we’ve talked about, the Junkers JU 390 never made it past the prototype stage. This model was designed and built in Germany, where it was supposed to be used as a heavy transport carrier and long-range bomber.
The Ju 390 comes in two popular versions, and the model’s first flight was logged in October 1943 and only four weeks later, the model was presented to Adolf Hitler. A year after it was presented to the Nazi leader, the model was completed. This was once the largest aircraft ever built until the Blohm & Voss 238 came along.
Lockheed C-5 Galaxy
To date, the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy remains one of the biggest military planes in service. Even though it was built in the 60s, it’s also one of the more modern aircraft models we’ve talked about so far.
The C-5 Galaxy logged its first flight in 1968, and it was operated a year later but there were some financial and technical problems like cracking wings that stalled its deployment. A total of 81 units were produced and delivered but they were all hampered by cargo weight limits.
Boeing B-29 Superfortress
The Boeing B-29 Superfortress is a military aircraft that was incredibly huge for its era. This was a popular airplane model during the Korean War and the Second World War. It was favored by the US because it featured capabilities and tech that were ahead of its years.
The Superfortress was unveiled in 1944, in a period characterized by the inability of the US to find its footing in the Second World War, it was in this period that the US Army received the B-29 heavy bomber proposal from Boeing.
The Antonov An-22 aircraft is a military transport aircraft that was designed by the Russians in 1966. Despite being a couple of decades old, the An-22 remains a serviceable aircraft to date so it remains in active service.
It gets its power from four turboprop engines so it is technically the biggest turboprop-powered aircraft still in active service in the world today. This model was built specifically to carry missiles so the biggest emphasis for its design was the ability to land and take off smoothly.
Douglas XB-19 is one of those planes that never made it past the prototype stage to serve in missions and wars. This was a heavy-bomber model made in 1941 in order to examine the capabilities of similar models.
The model’s construction was nearly halted altogether as a result of expenses but fortunately, the project got redeemed for a test flight in June 1941. The model was used to transport cargo for a while but then the whole project got too expensive, and it was canceled.
Boeing B-52 Stratofortress
The B-52 Stratofortress is a newer aircraft model designed for the United States Air Force. It is a gigantic aircraft with a monstrous 185 ft wingspan and a maximum takeoff load of 488,000 lb.
This is the model that essentially created the standard for future heavy-duty aircraft that carry arsenals like gravity bombs and cluster bombs. The B-52 Stratofortress features incredibly sophisticated technology that enables it to achieve a remarkable life span. After production began in 1952, about 750 units were made before production was halted for a bit.
The Kalinin K-7 is a Soviet flying machine that was basically an experimental aircraft that looks like it comes out of a horror movie. This model was designed and built in the 1930s, it features a configuration that is unusual for military planes thanks to big pods beneath the wings that hold the landing gear and machine gun.
A Russian pilot from WWI named Konstantin Kalinin designed this beastly seven-engine fortress with a 53-meter wingspan. There was some concerning instability during the model’s first flight so some design changes had to be made to it.
The Xian Y-20 is one of the rare non-American and non-Soviet military aircraft models on our list. It is a Chinese military transport aircraft that was officially unveiled in 2006, but its first flight was logged in 2013.
This is one of the biggest military machines ever made so it's not surprising that it has two nicknames, it's called "Kunpeng," which is a Chinese bird, and it's also called "Chubby Girl" as a result of its weight. After several prototypes and years of testing, the model was unveiled in 2015.
F-100 Super Sabre
The F-100 Super Sabre is a sleek swept-back-wing fighter aircraft that was unveiled in 1953. It entered into the United States military service as the country’s first supersonic jet. After its service began in 1956, this model saw a lot of action in the Vietnam War.
It continued to provide excellent air transport and combat service for a couple of decades until the model was retired completely in 1978. After retiring the model, it was transferred to the National Air and Space Museum.
Douglas A3D Skywarrior
The A3D Skywarrior aircraft was built in 1947, and the model was the first twin-jet nuclear bomber in the US Navy’s arsenal. It comes equipped with a tail turret controlled by radar, and it can also haul a maximum weight of 70,000 pounds.
The A3D Skywarrior entered the US military service in 1956, and at the time it was the biggest and heaviest aircraft model to be operated from a carrier. The revised design of the Skywarrior is known as the B-66 Destroyer.
North American XB-70 Valkyrie
The Valkyrie in this aircraft model’s name represents the chooser of the slain in Norse Mythology. That gives a nice background for what this model is all about. The XB-70 Valkyrie was designed to be equipped with nuclear weapons, it was also built to attain speeds that would make it immune to interceptors.
The model’s construction was started in 1955 after the US Air Force asked to have a Mach 3 bomber that could fly quite high while carrying heavy-duty machine guns.
Airbus A400M Atlas
The Airbus A400M Atlas is a military transport aircraft, and one of the more recent models we’ve talked about so far. The Atlas was designed in 2007 but it only entered the French Air Force service in 2013; it comes equipped with four engines and a host of technology.
It was designed in order to achieve certain strategies that older models couldn’t reach, it was therefore a replacement for outdated aircraft models. The A400M Atlas is equipped to carry out aerial refueling operations, and its 152 million Euros production cost means this isn’t the most expensive model to build.
Lockheed Martin C-130J
Nicknamed "Super Hercules," if you see this plane coming your way, chances are things are getting serious. The Lockheed Martin C-130J is primarily a search and rescue plane meant to be sent out during times of war.
This model is so popular that it is currently used by 15 nations including the Indian Air Force, the Italian Air Force, the Royal Norwegian Air Force, the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal Danish Air Force, the Royal Australian Air Force, the Royal Air Force, and the Israeli Air Force.
The Convair F-106, or Delta Dart, was created as an upgraded model of the F-102 Delta Dagger all-weather interceptor. This isn’t a recent model by any means as the first prototype logged its first flight in December 1956.
The US Air Force used the Convair F-106 model in the 1960s, 70s, and up until the late 1980s. Despite its age, this supersonic model is capable of reaching dizzying speeds, its 1,525 mph top speed enabled it to provide lightning-quick and reliable transportation all those years ago.
Aptly nicknamed "The Blackbird," the YF-12 is an experimental fighter-interceptor that was inspired by the A-12 model. Work began on the YF-12 secretly in the 1950s, and a prototype was built for the test flight.
The United States Air Force and NASA had a research program in which two YF-12s were flown. The model reached a Mach 3 cruise speed, and it broke multiple altitude and speed records while it was at it. Its design would then help engineers build quicker and stealthier planes.
The F-101 Voodoo model was designed as a complementary fighter escort for nuclear bombers. Multiple versions of this model were created, including a reconnaissance model, an interceptor, and an attack fighter as well.
These models were put to good use by the Canadian Air Defense Command, Tactical Air Command, and the Canadian Air Force Strategic Air Command. This model shattered several speed records and set some new ones like doing an LA to New York round trip in less than seven hours.
The United States Air Force unveiled the KC-10 Extender in 1981. It entered service as an Air Mobility Command cargo aircraft and advanced tanker equipped to expand the US Military’s global logistics and mobility.
Its gigantic size comes with the added advantage of extra features like the ability to refuel fighter aircraft at close proximity while also hauling some war equipment and military personnel during overseas missions. The Extender was used in operations in the Iraq War, War in Afghanistan, and the Gulf War.
The Convair XC-99 model was inspired by the Convair B-36 Bomber, so its design was based on the B-36. Although only one unit of the XC-99 was ever built, that unit was the largest land-based piston-engine powered transport aircraft ever built.
As a result of their glaring link, the XC-99 prototype and the B-36 Bomber share similar features, like having the same engines and wings. The prototype can also haul a maximum of 50 tons, including soldiers and their full armament.
This Lockheed Martin Raptor model is a twin-engine single-seat tactical fighter aircraft that was designed for the US Air Force. While the model was designed as an air superiority fighter, it also has electronic warfare, signals intelligence, and ground attack abilities.
The project was handled by Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor, and Boeing, who provided components like avionics integration, training systems, wings, and aft fuselage. The Raptor can exceed Mach 2 class speeds and exceed 50,000-foot climbs, but the model isn’t as popular these days.
F-4 Phantom II
The McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II aircraft is a twin-engine two-seat supersonic fighter-bomber and jet interceptor that was designed for the US Navy by McDonnell Aircraft. It entered service in 1961 and quickly broke 16 time-to-climb and altitude records as it clocked speeds in excess of 1,600 mph.
This model was used in the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm because it proved to be a highly-adaptable aircraft. The F-4 Phantom II was the most produced American supersonic military aircraft as more than 5,000 units of it were produced.
U-2 spy plane
As the name suggests, the U-2 spy plane is used by the United States for reconnaissance, surveillance, and intelligence gathering. Although not the stealthiest aircraft due to its size, this bird in the sky sees it all earning the nickname, "Dragon Lady."
This aircraft is famous for being shot down by the Soviet Union during the Cuban missile crisis after it had spotted Russian missiles in Cuba. It was also a crucial part of the United States' strategy during the Vietnam War.
This aircraft is sure to get some laughs seeing that it is in the shape of a Dolphin, however, make no mistake about it the Airbus BelugaXL is just as useful as all the other aircraft mentioned on this list.
Its purpose is to carry oversized aircraft components, such as engines, propellers, or wings, which are highly needed on the battlefield at times. It replaced the original BelugaST once it was properly flight-tested in 2018 and was able to hold 30% more capacity than the BelugaST.
This behemoth is used by the Chinese Military to transport medium-sized military vehicles. It was developed in 2002 as part of the Y8 program in China, a program that was a collaboration with Antonov.
However, this plane didn't see its first voyage until 2010 due to some design changes that needed to be made. Though it got a slow start, this plane is now part of China's People's Liberation Army Air Force and can carry 30 tons worth of cargo.
In contrast to some of the other transport aircraft on this list, the Kawasaki C-2 is a high-speed military transport aircraft. The Kawasaki C-2 was manufactured and developed by the Kawasaki Aerospace Company.
In 2016 the Kawasaki C-2 entered service as part of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force. It has been such a huge success for Japan that countries like the United Arab Emirates and New Zealand have openly expressed interest in purchasing some from Japan.
The second of the Antonovs mentioned on our list is the Antonov An-70. The Antonov An-70 is a newer generation from the Antonov family and is a military transport aircraft meant for medium-range Short Take-Off and Landing.
The Antonov An-70 has four Progress D-27 prop-fan engines, each powering an SV-27 counter-rotating propeller, which can be seen in the picture above. This aircraft was created in December 1994 and has been used ever since.
The A330 MRTT was based on the civilian Airbus A310, but it was adjusted to serve as a multi-role military aircraft. This model is currently still in service and is used by the German Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force.
The A330 MRTT has an astounding maximum take-off weight of 157 tons, which is why this aircraft is excellent for carrying medical equipment, passengers, and freight transport. As shown in the picture this unit is also fully equipped to support air-to-air refueling if need be.