$7tn of goods travel by air every year. Most goes in the hold of normal airliners. But for those big, awkward loads, something rather larger is required.
When you need a lot of stuff moved very far and relatively fast, these are the planes you turn to.
Aerospace corporations around the world have developed a number of oversized planes to carry massive payloads, and they’re working on future designs that could carry much more bigger payloads Here is a look at some of the biggest cargo aircraft currently in operation.
Boeing 747 Dreamlifter
A number of the biggest cargo planes in the world are variations of the Boeing 747. The 747-8 Freighter, a cargo version of the passenger 747-8 Intercontinental, is actually a heavier plane—with an almost 900,000-pound maximum takeoff weight. But the Dreamlifter’s fuselage design allows the plane to carry particularly large or awkwardly shaped items.
Antonov An-225 Mriya
You know those planes that fly with a space shuttle on their backs? Well the Antonov An-225 Mriya is the biggest of them all. It holds the world record for the largest single-item payload, 418,834 pounds, as well as the record for total airlifted payload—559,577 pounds, or 280 tons. Only one of these monsters was built in the late 1980s by the Soviet Union in what is now Ukraine.
Aero Spacelines Super Guppy
NASA’s preferred plane for transporting spacecraft and other large objects, the Super Guppy, is actually an older design. The first one flew in 1965 and was constructed directly from the fuselage of a Boeing C-97 Stratofreighter, which was lengthened and ballooned out for larger payloads, One was used recently to transport an Orion Spacecraft that is scheduled to launch on the first Space Launch System Rocket in 2018.
Antonov An-124 Condor
The Soviet-built Antonov An-124 Condor is the largest military aircraft in the world. In this 2004 photo, the U.S. Navy is loading a Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicle (DSRV) into an An-124 Condor to be flown to South Korea. Forty of these aircraft are still in use, though only a small number still provide air transport for the Russian military.
Lockheed C-5 Galaxy
Slightly smaller than the Antonov Condor, Lockheed’s C-5 Galaxy is the largest aircraft routinely operated by the U.S. military. With a payload capacity of almost 240,000 pounds, the Lockheed Galaxy is capable of carrying two M! Abrams Main Battle Tanks, 16 Humvees, etc
Airbus A300-600ST Beluga
The Airbus Beluga was introduced in 1995 to replace the older Super Guppy. Airbus needed a plane that could handle large aircraft parts, and upkeep on the Super Guppy planes was not cost effective. Organizations that used the Super Guppy have replaced it with the Beluga—except NASA. NASA loves the Super Guppy.
Antonov An-22 Antei
Another plane designed by the Soviet Antonov Design Bureau—now the Antonov State Company in Kiev, Ukraine. The Antonov An-22 has four contra-rotating propellers and is the largest turboprop-powered aircraft in the world. The aircraft is still in service and has performed a large number of military supply missions for the Soviet Union and Russia in its roughly 50-year life.
Boeing C-17 Globemaster III
The Boeing C-17 Globemaster III’s first flight was in September 1991 and more than 250 of these beauties have been built. The Globemaster III is the major cargo workhorse for the U.S. military, transporting troops and cargo, performing airlifts and medical evacuations, and flying airdrop routes all over the world.
Airbus A400M Atlas
The Airbus A400M was built as an international project and is operated by Germany, France, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Turkey among other European countries. The aircraft’s first flight was in 2009, and it uses modern composite materials for the fuselage and turboprop engines designed for maximum fuel efficiency and low operating costs. It has a payload capacity of 74,000 pounds.
Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules
The C-130J Super Hercules is the latest in Lockheed Martin’s Hercules family that began with the C-130 Hercules in 1954. The various Hercules aircraft are the longest continuously produced military aircraft ever. The basic Hercules design has outlived a number of planned successor planes.
Kawasaki Heavy Industries’ C-2 cargo aircraft is still in a development and flight-testing phase. It was originally scheduled to go into production in 2014 to replace the Kawasaki C-1 used by the Japan Air Self-Defense Forces (JASDF). With a payload capacity of almost 83,000 pounds, the Kawasaki C-2 will be able to transport more than 3 times the weight of the C-1.