Supersized aircraft: Behemoths of the sky (pictures)

Take a look at some of the most monstrous aircraft ever to take to the skies -- or at least hope to.

James Martin
James Martin is the Managing Editor of Photography at CNET. His photos capture technology's impact on society - from the widening wealth gap in San Francisco, to the European refugee crisis and Rwanda's efforts to improve health care. From the technology pioneers of Google and Facebook, photographing Apple's Steve Jobs and Tim Cook, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Google's Sundar Pichai, to the most groundbreaking launches at Apple and NASA, his is a dream job for any documentary photography and journalist with a love for technology. Exhibited widely, syndicated and reprinted thousands of times over the years, James follows the people and places behind the technology changing our world, bringing their stories and ideas to life.
James Martin
HAV 304 Airlander
1 of 12 Hybrid Air Vehicles

HAV 304 Airlander

A few days back came word of a new contender for the title of world's largest aircraft, and it's equal parts awesome and ominous. The HAV 304 Airlander is no ordinary flying machine. This futuristic craft is 300 feet long, doesn't need a runway, and backers say it could carry up to 50 tons of freight 1,500 miles at 100 miles an hour, not to mention stay aloft for days and days at a time.

It's not quite a Star Destroyer, but there's something creepy about the way Hybrid Air Vehicles' technical director, Mike Durham, states, "You can put 7 or 8 tons of surveillance equipment on board." On the cheerier side, the HAV 304 Airlander is also green, efficient, and a hybrid.

Read on for a look at some notable aircraft past and present -- both fixed-wing planes and lighter-than-air machines -- built on the premise that bigger is better.

NASA's Super Guppy
2 of 12 NASA Photo / Tom Tschida

NASA's Super Guppy

This bulbous machine eats spacecraft, or parts of them, anyway. It's NASA's Super Guppy, which the space agency has long used to transport sizable structures such as components for the International Space Station and the newer Project Orion. The 143-foot-long Super Guppy has a cargo area that is 25 feet tall, 25 feet wide and 111 feet long, capable of carrying more than 26 tons of cargo. Its unique hinged nose opens more than 200 degrees, which allows for relatively easy movement of oversized and awkward cargo that might otherwise be difficult to transport.

Here, the B377SGT Super Guppy Turbine cargo aircraft touches down at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., on June 11, 2000, to deliver a version of the X-38 flight test vehicle, a re-entry vehicle that at one point was expected to be used as a Crew Return Vehicle for the space station.
3 of 12 Ralf Manteufel

Antonov An-225 Mriya

The only Antonov An-225 Mriya cargo aircraft ever made is seen here carrying the Buran spacecraft, Russia's would-be answer to the US space shuttle. With a cargo hold that is 142 feet long and 14 feet high, the Russian An-225 is widely acknowledged as the largest airplane in the world, and at 640 tons, the heaviest-lifting aircraft ever.
4 of 12 Sergey Kustov

Antonov An-124

The Antonov An-124 is the world's second heaviest-lifting cargo aircraft, matched only by its one-off cousin, the An-225 Mriya, and is able to kneel low to the ground to allow easier front loading.

With an onboard overhead crane, the Antonov An-124 has unique cargo capabilities, able to lift up to 30 tons of cargo and carry up to 150 tons. The cargo compartment of An-124 measures 118 feet long, 21 feet wide and 14 feet high, roughly 20 percent larger than the main cargo compartment of the US Air Force's C-5 Galaxy.
5 of 12 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Airbus A380

The Airbus A380, the world's largest passenger plane, is seen here taking off at the Paris Air Show in 2013. The A380-800 original configuration had space for 555 passengers in a three-class configuration, and its capacity could be pushed to 853 passengers in a single-class economy configuration. In May 2007, Airbus began offering a configuration with 30 fewer passengers -- 525 total in three classes -- with the lower weight said to allow a longer range for the plane.
6 of 12 David Pryde

A300-600ST Super Transporter

With a cargo hold length of 184 feet, and height of 56 feet, the Airbus Super Transporter has one of the largest cargo holds of any civil or military aircraft flying today. The A300-600ST Super Transporter, better known as the Beluga, was developed to carry complete sections of Airbus aircraft from different production sites around Europe to the final assembly lines in Toulouse or Hamburg.
7 of 12 Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Boeing 747-8 freighter

The Boeing 747-8 freighter, at 270 feet long and capable of carrying more than 154 tons, is the largest jumbo jet Boeing has built. This one is taxiing back to the flight line after its first test flight on February 8, 2009, at Paine Field in Everett, Wash.
8 of 12 Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images

Galaxy C5

A Ugandan soldier watches as a US Air Force C5 Galaxy military transport plane is unloaded on the tarmac of Entebbe airport, amid airdrops to Rwandan refugees in July 1994. The hinged-nose C5 features a cargo compartment 121 feet long, 13.5 feet high, and 19 feet wide.
9 of 12 LOC.gov

Hindenburg: A pioneer of transatlantic air service

At 803 feet in length and 135 feet in diameter, the infamous German passenger-carrying rigid airship, the Hindenburg (LZ-129) was the largest aircraft ever to fly, a symbol of technology and luxury in transportation.

Commercial flights of the Hindenburg, along with the lesser-known Graf Zeppelin, pioneered transatlantic air service before the Hindenburg was destroyed in a tragic fire on May 6, 1937, at Naval Air Station Lakehurst in New Jersey, at the end of the first North American transatlantic journey of its second season of service.
10 of 12 U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph

USS Akron

With a length of around 785 feet, just 20 feet shorter than the German airship Hindenburg, the USS Akron and her sister airship, the USS Macon, were among the largest flying objects in the world in the early 1930s. While the Hindenburg was longer and filled with hydrogen, the USS Akron and USS Macon, were the longest helium-filled airships.

Here, the Akron is seen flying over Lower Manhattan.
11 of 12 US Navy/ Naval Historical Center

USS Macon

The USS Macon is moored at the Naval Air Station in Sunnyvale, Calif., after arriving from Lakehurst, N.J., on October 15, 1933.
12 of 12 LOC.gov

Spruce Goose

A look at behemoth aircraft wouldn't be complete without Howard Hughes' massive 200 ton, eight-story tall flying boat, nicknamed the Spruce Goose. The only time it ever flew was on November 2, 1947, when it was airborne for about a mile with Hughes at the controls.

In 2006, CNET News reporter Daniel Terdiman got a chance to sit at the controls of the Spruce Goose at the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Ore.

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