Microsoft co-founder and Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen rolled the Stratolaunch out of its hangar for the first time on Wednesday. Dubbed the “world’s biggest airplane,” it’s complete with six Boeing 747 engines, 28 wheels, and a wingspan longer than a football field.
The Stratolaunch’s wingspan and the amount of weight it’s equipped to carry (over 500,000 pounds) is what earns the plane the top honor; there are other planes bigger in terms of length and height. Allen aims to use the aircraft to send rockets into orbit in order to make space access more “convenient, reliable, and routine,” according to the company’s website. The magnitude of the plane’s size alone means Allen and his team will have their work cut out for them.
See how the world’s biggest plane compares to other large aircrafts throughout aviation history.
Hughes H-4 Hercules (aka the “Spruce Goose”)
Until construction of the Stratolaunch was recently completed, the all-wooden H-4 Hercules had the largest wingspan of any aircraft in history. Completed in 1947, the “Spruce Goose” — a nickname the press had for the plane made from birch — held the distinction of the largest airplane to ever fly until 1952. With a length of nearly 219 feet, just about 20 feet shorter than that of the Stratolaunch, the Spruce Goose reflected its designer’s ambition: famed investor, film tycoon, and pilot Howard Hughes. The plane was originally intended to transport troops and materials during World War II, but it could not be finished in time to be used during the conflict. Still, Hughes managed to fly the enormous aircraft once in November 1947 at an altitude of 70 feet for approximately one minute.
Manufactured by European aircraft-maker Airbus, the A380 is the world’s largest passenger airliner that continues to fly more than 300 commercial flights a day, according to Airbus’ website. With a length of 238.7 feet, the A380 actually eclipses the Stratolaunch’s length by seven inches. But the latter has the A380 firmly beat when it comes to wingspan, with a whopping 385-foot range compared to the A380’s approximate 262 feet. The Airbus’ wide, double-deck body is impressive in its own right thanks to engineering that allows it to provide premium service for passenger. First introduced for commercial flights by Singapore Airlines, Emirates has now taken over as the airliner’s primary user.
Antonov An-124 Ruslan
First designed within Soviet Union borders that are now part of Ukraine, the An-124 took its first flight in 1982 and remains the largest military transport aircraft in the world. Similar to the Airbus, the length of the Ruslan rivals the Stratolaunch at just over 226 feet. But the Stratolaunch wingspan tops the An-142 by 145 feet. And as a cargo transport plane, the An-124 is outmatched once again: its 893,000 pound maximum takeoff weight is among the heaviest in the world, but the Stratolaunch can fly weighed down by a whopping 1.3 million pounds. While production of the An-124 halted in 2014, the plane is still in service.
While the Star Wars movies make the fictional freighter look gigantic when Han Solo (and even Chewbacca) is beside it, the Millennium Falcon is nothing compared to the Stratolaunch here on Earth. Its technical classification is a “light freighter,” which allows it to travel at quick speeds and dodge the laser cannons of the Empire’s starfighters. According to the official Star Wars website, the Falcon measures at 34.75 meters, which comes out to about 114 feet, which the Stratolaunch exceeds by more than 100 feet. But while Earth’s largest plane is supposedly capable of tethering rockets into space orbit, the Millennium Falcon has one key advantage: hyperdrive. The Falcon made the Kessel Run hyperspace route in less than 12 parsecs — if its notorious smuggler captain is to be believed.