World record related to size are the most interesting ones. While some things are created with no objective other than taking place in record books, others are built with a more useful meaning. For example, the biggest airplane in the world, Antonov An-225, was created to carry spaceships and even after almost 30 years after its first flight it is still completing important missions. However, soon it may lose one of its records.

Antonov An-225, built in Ukraine and currently used by Antonov Airlines, is a cargo plane, specifically designed to carry big and heavy weights, such as Buran spaceship. It first took off in 1988 and since then it completed some serious tasks. Not only it was carrying Shuttle-like Buran spacecraft, but also it delivered some heavy generators, humanitarian aid, food to soldiers and many different items.

Antonov An-225 is the biggest airplane in the world. (U.S. Air Force picture)

An-225 has several different records. One of which, is the longest wingspan of currently used airplane – 88.4 metres. It also carried a payload of 247 tons and a single heaviest item weighing about 190 tons. However, An-225 is about to lose one of its records as an even wider plane just left its hangar in United States.

Stratolaunch, a brain child of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, left its hangar to start its ground tests, before it can make its first flight. It is designed to carry rockets to a certain altitude so that they wouldn’t have to use so much fuel while fighting Earth’s gravity. It will make space exploration that much cheaper and easier.

But it also means that Stratolaunch has to be able to carry lots of weight. It is designed to carry 220 tons in between its two fuselages. It will work like a normal plane for the most part – it will take off the runway, reach an appropriate altitude (similar to that of other commercial airplanes), release the rocket, which will then go to the orbit, and then will come back. Then Stratolaunch can be reloaded, refueled and used again.

Stratolaunch is designed to carry rockets, so that they would not have to burn so much fuel fighting Earth’s gravity.

So what’s the record number? Stratolaunch’s wingspan is more than 117 metres. It is not as long as An-225, but Antonov is losing one of its records. However, looking historically, wingspan record did not really belong to An-225. A prototype transatlantic wooden flying ship Hughes H-4 Hercules had a wingspan of 97.5 metres.

Hughes H-4 Hercules flew only once, but it is still an incredible engineering achievement. (Drew Wallner, Wikimedia(CC BY 3.0)

It was originally meant to enter World War Two (that‘s why it was built from wood), but didn‘t make its first flight until 1947. That was the only flight too and now Hercules in resting in Evergreen Aviation Museum in Oregon.

First demonstration flights of Stratolaunch are planned to happen in 2019. We will see if it will bring revolution in space exploration that it is promising.


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