10 of the Biggest Military Airplanes in the World

The fact that the military is interested in designing bigger and better airplanes is no surprise, and this is not just for showing off either. Indeed, having one large plane instead of two smaller planes is a lot more economical. Larger planes accommodate more people with each flight without hiring additional air or ground workers, and this makes the flight more economical in many ways.

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Benefits Of Big Military Planes

Instead of two airplanes with 200 passengers each, one large plane that accommodates 500 passengers just makes more sense.

This is especially true with military planes because in addition to carrying paratroopers and other military personnel, they have to carry a lot of extra-large, heavy equipment and supplies.

Whether for cargo or personnel purposes, it’s important for the military to have large planes.

Fortunately, the branches of the military have designed some of the largest planes known to man throughout the years, and they are efficient, reliable planes that serve their purposes well.

Many were made specifically for war and many were not, but in all cases, these airplanes are great at what they do and are large enough to fit tanks, cannons, and many other military equipment and supplies.

The Biggest Military Airplanes

1. Boeing C-17 Globemaster III

Boeing C-17 Globemaster III
Boeing C-17 Globemaster III

Designed by McDonnell Douglas, who later merged with Boeing, the C-17 Globemaster III military plane was manufactured to replace the C-141 Starlifter and is the largest workhouse owned by the U.S. Air Force.

Inducted into service in the mid-1990s, the Globemaster is used by the United States and various NATO countries, including Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and India, among others.

Originally, about 250 of these planes were built, and they are significant because they can take off and land even in unprepared airstrips and runways that are unpaved or unimproved.

Because of this, the C-17 is a very convenient plane for the military to operate, and it can accommodate an Abrams tank, three Apache helicopters, or three Stryker armored vehicles. 

2. Ilyushin IL-76

Ilyushin Il-76 of the Russian Air Force (flying hospital)
Ilyushin Il-76 of the Russian Air Force (flying hospital)

With a payload capacity of 50 tons, the IL-76 plane was manufactured to deliver machinery and heavy vehicles, to name a few.

It will operate efficiently even in short or unimproved runways, and it will even land safely in extreme weather conditions, making it a very reliable plane.

NATO calls the plane Candid, and it is the first Soviet four-jet heavy transport plane. More than 800 of these planes have been built.

The IL-76 was originally supposed to operate as a freighter and as a replacement for the Antonov An-12.

It can be found in many countries today because it is still in service, and it is often used in emergency responses to evacuate civilians and to provide disaster relief and humanitarian aid all over the world.

This proves that it is a very versatile and multipurpose airplane that can be used by both the military and civilians alike.

3. Xian Y-20 Chinese Transport Aircraft

Xian Y-20
Xian Y-20

Since it began production in the 1990s, the Y-20 aircraft is considered fairly new, and it was adopted into the Chinese Air Force in 2016.

It is a 200-ton military cargo jet that offers a payload capacity of roughly 60 tons and the ability to carry tanks and large combat vehicles.

With involvement by Russia and the Ukraine, the Y-20 airplane was made to reach most of Europe, as well as Australia, Alaska, and Africa.

In addition to its many capabilities, the Y-20 Chinese transport aircraft contains four Russian D-30KP2 turbofan engines for extra speed and efficiency.

Its payload is roughly between the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, which has a payload of 77 tons; and the Russian Ilyushin IL-76, which can accommodate 50 tons. 

4. Antonov AN-22

Antonov AN-22
Antonov AN-22

Even today, the Antonov AN-22 airplane is the world’s largest turboprop-powered aircraft, and it has been around since 1965.

With a payload of 80 tons, the A-N22 – also known as the Antei – can even outperform the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III.

This military plane has been nicknamed Cock by NATO, and it has been used throughout the Soviet Union for various humanitarian and military airlifts.

Designed to operate even on soft ground and unprepared airfields, this is the perfect military plane for various types of activities, and it is also a dependable plane thanks to its four turboprop engines and its eight contra-rotating propellers.

When it comes to large military planes with a great track record, you can’t beat the Russian Antonov AN-22.

5. Antonov AN-225 Mriya

AN-225 Mriya
Antonov AN-225 Mriya

Designed by the Antonov design bureau – just like the AN-22 was – the AN-225 is the largest and longest aircraft ever created. Known as Mriya, or Dream in Ukraine, the Antonov AN-225 was originally built for the Buran space shuttle in the Soviet Union.

To get an idea of how big the airplane is, it is actually longer than the length that the Wright Brothers traveled in their very first flight.

AN-225 (Mriya)
Antonov AN-225 (Mriya)

Oddly, there was only one AN-225 built, and that was in 1988. Nowadays, it is no longer a military airplane, but is used commercially to carry all types of oversized payloads.

In fact, it even holds several records for transporting some of the heaviest and largest pieces of equipment ever to be airlifted.

Today, it is still in great condition, with a takeoff weight of 640 tons and the ability to keep going for many additional years.

6. Tupolev TU-160

Tupolev TU-160
Tupolev TU-160

There are currently 16 of these airplanes still in use, and it is a supersonic heavy bomber that can travel at twice the speed of sound.

It is called the White Swan in Russian, and it has a takeoff weight of 300 lbs., which is quite impressive.

The plane has been around since 1987 and was meant to serve the Soviet Union before it broke up into several different countries.

Today, the TU-160 is the largest and heaviest combat aircraft still being used. NATO forces code-named it Blackjack, and it even has variable-sweep wings.

When development of this plane began, its intent was to counteract the attempt of the United States to develop the supersonic B-1 Lancer bomber, so there is naturally some competition between the two planes.

7. Lockheed C-5 Galaxy

Lockheed C-5 Galaxy
Lockheed C-5 Galaxy

Used by the U.S. Air Force for a variety of heavy intercontinental-range strategic airlifts, the C-5 Galaxy is the predecessor to the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III in many ways.

In addition, the Air Force has used this military plane since 1969, and it was used in conflicts in areas that include Iraq, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, and the Gulf War. 

The C-5 Galaxy is certainly impressive and has a 130-ton payload capacity, in addition to the ability to accommodate two M1A2 Abrams battle tanks or seven armored vehicles.

It has also been a big advantage when being used for humanitarian aid and disaster relief projects, and its upgraded version – the C-5M Super Galaxy – has new engines and is expected to be used past the year 2040.

8. Boeing 747 Dreamlifter

Boeing 747 Dreamlifter
Boeing 747 Dreamlifter

The Boeing 747 Dreamlifter has been flown since 2007 and is a wide-body cargo plane and a more advanced version of the Boeing 747-400.

It is also known as a large cargo freighter, or LCF, and it was originally manufactured to make sure Boeing’s parts and components got where they needed to go in Boeing plants located all over the world.

The Dreamlifter can hold three times more equipment than the Boeing 747-400F freighter, and it is more than 70 feet high and 235 feet long.

Its maximum takeoff weight is more than 800,000 lbs., making it the perfect military cargo plane. It has four Pratt & Whitney 4062 engines to accommodate it.

9. Antonov AN-124 Ruslan

Antonov AN-124 Ruslan
Antonov AN-124 Ruslan

In service since 1986, the AN-124 Ruslan airplane is used by the Russian Air Force, and there are 55 of them still in use today. It is nicknamed Condor by NATO and is still the largest military transport aircraft in the world.

It has a maximum payload of 150 tons and can accommodate loads of all sizes and types, including combat vehicles, helicopters, Russian tanks, and much more.

The AN-124 Ruslan has a cruising speed of more than 530 MPH and a maximum takeoff weight of more than 880,000 lbs.

It has four Progress D-18T turbofan engines, and it has a wingspan of more than 240 feet. It can accommodate a crew of six people.

10. Kawasaki C-2

Kawasaki C-2
Kawasaki C-2

The Kawasaki C-2 military plane is used in Japan and became operational in the year 2016. It is a medium-range military transport plane that has a typical layout for this type of plane.

Its maximum payload capacity is more than 37 tons and it can accommodate 120 troops, one UH-60J helicopter, or eight standard air cargo pallets.

The C-2 plane was made to replace aircraft such as the Kawasaki C-1 and the Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules, which are tactical transport aircraft.

At the time it was manufactured, the plan was to eventually have 30 to 40 of these planes in use.

It has a height of more than 46 feet and a length of roughly 145 feet, and its maximum takeoff weight is more than 133,000 lbs. It can also accommodate a crew of three people.

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