Monsters of the sky: The top 10 biggest aircraft ever built

Think the A380 is the biggest plane to ever take to the skies? Think againReuters

Earlier this month, the airship affably known as the Flying Bum spent three hours drifting above the British countryside before returning to its base in rural Bedfordshire. The occasion marked the third time the Airlander 10 had flown, and was the longest time the craft had spent airborne since first taking to the skies in 2016.

Set to enter commercial operation in 2021, the Airlander 10 now holds the distinction of being the world's largest aircraft. Roughly the size of a football field, the airship dwarfs all other aircraft currently in operation while coming in at a fraction of the weight.

Yet while it comes close, it doesn't quite snatch the crown for the largest aircraft ever created. There have been several attempts to claim this title, leading to some truly monstrous aircraft that, looking at them, you'd think have no business being capable of flight. Here are the 10 biggest in history.

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1. LZ-129 Hindenburg

The Hindenburg over New York in 1937Fox Photos/ Stringer

The ill-fated Hindenburg ended the world's love affair with airships following the tragic crash in 1937, as well as making the aviation industry rethink its relationship with using hydrogen gas. No other aircraft built since has come close to matching the LZ-129's colossal size, which measured the length of more than two football pitches.

2. Airlander 10

The Airlander 10 is the largest aircraft currently in operationHybrid Air Vehicles

The Airlander 10 is currently the biggest aircraft in operation and hopes to usher in a new age of airship travel. Filled with non-flammable helium, the craft can fly at altitudes of up to 20,000 feet and can stay airborne for up to two weeks. When it enters operation, the 'Flying Bum' will be capable of carrying passengers from London to Paris in as little as 2.5 hours.

3. Antonov An-225 'Mriya'

The Antonov An-225 is a winged behemothGreg Wood/ Getty

The Ukrainian-built An-225 is a military cargo plane that holds the title of being the longest and heaviest aeroplane ever built. It also has the biggest wingspan of any plane currently in operation, measuring an incredible 88.4 metres tip-to-tip. The An-225 is powered by six turbofan engines and holds the record for the heaviest payload ever carried by an aircraft at 272 tonnes – roughly the weight of two blue whales.

4. Hughes H-4 Hercules

Despite being called the Spruce Goose, the H-4 Hercules was mostly made of birchHulton Archive/ Getty

Conceived by famed designer and eccentric recluse Howard Hughes, the H-4 Hercules has the largest wingspan of any aircraft in history, which at nearly 100 metres across made this massive seaplane wider than it was long. It gained the nickname Spruce Goose due to the fact it was constructed almost entirely of wood, although the name is a misnomer as it was actually built from birch.

5. Airbus A380-800

The Airbus A380 is the world's largest passenger planeReuters

The double-decker Airbus A380-800 is the world's largest passenger airliner with enough potential seating for more than 800 people – provided everyone flew economy. Reaching more than 24 metres into the air, the A380's tail is as tall as a 10-storey building. It's also the most expensive commerical airliner ever built, which each plane carrying a price tag of over £330m ($430m, €390m).

6. Boeing 747-8

The Boeing 747-8 is the longest passenger aircraft in the world, measuring almost 80 metres nose to tailReuters

The Boeing 747-8 is the longest passenger plane in the world and the largest aircraft in Boeing's family. To date, 747s have flown more than 3.5 billion people – the equivalent of approximately half the world's population. The upper deck alone has the same square footage as an entire Boeing 737.

7. Antonov An-124

The Antonov An-124 is a heavy-duty cargo plane used by the Russian Air ForceAFP/ Getty

The An-124 is the slightly smaller sibling to the colossal An-225, but still manages to dwarf most other aircraft. The plane can carry a payload of 150 tonnes, with a maximum loaded take-off weight of over 400 tonnes. There are 55 currently in operation, which are used primarily by the Russian Air Force and select air freight companies in Eastern Europe.

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8. Lockheed C-5 Galaxy

The Lockheed C-5 Galaxy is used by the US Air Force to transport tanks smaller military aircraftThomas Lohnes/ Stringer

The largest aircraft in the US Air Force's fleet has a 121ft-long cargo bay, essentially making it a warehouse with wings. The hull is gargantuan enough to hold smaller military vehicles like tanks, fighter jets and attack helicopters, with the plane capable of carrying a maximum payload of more than 130 tonnes.

9. Boeing 747 Dreamlifter

The Boeing 747 Dreamlifter has the largest cargo hold of any aircraftScott Wright/ Wikimedia Commons

There's a reason the Dreamlifter looks like a plane that's swallowed a smaller plane. This Boeing 747 variant is designed to carry large fuselage parts of Boeing's passenger planes, and has the largest cargo hold of any aeroplane in existence. Measuring a cavernous 65,000 cubic feet, the hold of the Dreamlifter has enough space for a 10-lane bowling alley inside a three-storey building.

10. Airbus A340-600

The A340 is a favourite amongst airline operatorsPierre Verdy/ Getty

The A340 has amassed some impressive numbers since taking to the skies in 1993 and has the longest range of any commercial plane until the arrival of Boeing's iconic 777 one year later. Having flown more than 600 million passengers and with more than 20 million flight hours under its belt, the A340 is one of the world's popular airliners, with German airliner Lufthansa owning the largest fleet.

*weights show are representative of aircraft's weight without payload.

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