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The World’s Largest Aircraft Might Lose its Title to a Blimp

This despite having a wingspan almost as long as a football field

(Thomas Frey/dpa/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

For almost 30 years, the Antonov An-225, a Ukranian cargo plane, has dwarfed all other aircraft in the history of the world. But in just a few years, the massive airplane might lose its title to a blimp.

At 275 feet long and with a wingspan nearly the length of a football field, the An-225 has been widely considered the largest aircraft in the world since it debuted in 1989. Designed to carry space shuttles on its back, the An-225 can carry about 275 tons, weighs about 1.32 million pounds and can cruise at a cool 500 miles per hour, Popular Mechanics reported in 2003.

According to the Antonov Group, the Ukrainian company that designed and now owns the aircraft, the An-225 has set 240 world records over the course of its operation and is now mainly used for transporting humanitarian aid around the world. While originally designed as part of the Soviet Union’s fledgling space shuttle program, the An-225 only flew one mission before the U.S.S.R. collapsed in 1991.

But after nearly 30 years of being the biggest plane on the airstrip, the An-225 is finally facing some stiff competition for its title. Recently, a Californian aerospace company announced that it is beginning production on what could soon be the largest aircraft the world has ever seen: a 555-foot-long cargo-carrying blimp, Discovery.com reports.

“We are excited to reveal production is underway on the 555-ft long ML866, and committed to achieving FAA operational certification for the first deployable Aeroscraft in approximately five years,” Aeroscraft’s CEO Igor Pasternak said in a statement.

At nearly the length of two football fields, the ML866 is almost twice as long as the An-225 and is designed to carry up to 66 tons. But while the blimp doesn’t even come close to the mammoth carrying capacity of the An-225 (or even most container ships), it could potentially be more feasible for transporting cargo thanks to its ability to perform vertical takeoffs and land on almost any kind of terrain, including water. If everything goes according to plan, Aeroscraft is toying with building an even bigger aircraft that could carry up to 250 tons, Discovery.com reports.

If the ML866 is successful, the world might be one step closer to a future filled with blimps drifting along with the wind.

Concept art of the Aeroscraft ML866, via Aeroscraft
About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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