"Bigger is better." That is a phrase many pilots of larger airplanes use. We will not say that they are wrong or right. We will simply try to tell why there are huge airplanes.

Two of the three reasons to build a giant are range and payload. Since the beginning of aviation designers made plans of giants to have a longer range. The Germans made plans for a huge bomber, the Mannesmann Poll, to attack the United States of America. It was a ten engined tri-plane. It had 5 engine gondolas with each 2 engines. 4 gondolas were mounted on the mid wing, 1 gondola was mounted on the lower wing (in the middle of the wing). At the end of that war the Allied forces found a wheel of that bomber, so production of parts had already begun. The wheel had a diameter of 2.2 meter!

Mannesman Poll

Engines 10  
Span 50 m 164.04 ft
Length 45.7 m 150 ft
Range 10 500 km (130 km/h) 6524 mi
Between the wars there were many firms who wanted to have larger airplanes, so they could move more people over a longer range. Larger airplanes need longer airstrips. Since there were no long airstrips available at that time, flying boats were introduced. Most of the giants between the wars were flying boats. Sikorsky, Short and several other firms builded their flying boats. But the most remarkable flying boat of that time was surely the German Dornier Do X. This giant had 12 engines mounted on top of the wing. The interior was pure glitter and glamour. But the project itself was a economical disaster. Even 12 engines were not enough to put some speed or height into this plane. Even Lufthansa (German airlines) was not interested to buy a Dornier X.

Dornier Do X while taking off

Dornier Do X

Power 12 x 391.5 kW (525 hp)
12 x 477 kW (640 hp)
12 x 432 kW (580 hp) (Do X2 en Do X3)
Span 48 m 157.4 ft
Length 40 m 131.2 ft
Height 10 m 32.8 ft
Wing area 450 m2 4844 sq.ft.
Weight (empty) 32 675 kg 72 035 lb
Weight (maximum take-off) 56 000 kg 123 457 lb
Speed (maximum) 214 km/h 133 mph
Speed (cruise) 190 km/h 118 mph
Ceiling 1250 m 4100 ft
Range 1700 km 1056 mi
The Dornier Do X was a answer to the request of the Reichsverkehrministerium (RVM). Their "Vorbereiting des Transozeanischen Luftverkehrs" (preparation for transatlantic airtravel) got several proposals. There were several proposals that couldn't be achieved in that time. Rumpler made one of these designs. The design used 10 engines of 1000 hp with pusher props. Span would be 94 m (308.4 ft). The design had 4 hulls and 2 stabilizers. Tails were connected to each other. Passengers were seated in the wing. The design of Dornier was easier to construct than this design.

The utopic design of Rumpler

Norman Bel Geddes (1893-1958), a American industrial designer, came in 1932 with a proposal for another giant. His Airliner # 4 was designed with assistance of the German engineer, Dr Otto Koller. Geddes design would be veeeery big. Span 160 m (525 ft), nine decks, two elevators, place for 451 passengers and a crew of 155. The hulls contained kitchens, crew quarters, lifeboats and … 2 aircraft's. These aircrafts could be launched in flight to the rear. If that would not be enough. There were also luxurious staterooms, a gymnasium, dining room with dance floor, promenade decks, verandas, bar and many more. To me this sounds more like a cruise ship than to a airplane. To get the plane in the air there were 20 engines. Typical for this design … there were also 6 reserve engines which could be placed in flight. This power would get the plane to a cruisespeed of 160 km/h (99 mph).

There is a great site about this giant airplane. http://home.att.net/~dannysoar/BelGeddes.htm Go check it out. It has some nice drawings of the design.

The author of the original article thought that this design could only be operational when using ground effect. I believe that his thought is right. Ground effect … to me is the way to create the giants of tomorrow. Soon there will be a section on that item as well in this site.

At the beginning of WW II the Germans builded another giant. It was a glider! The Messerschmidt 321 would be used during the invasion of England. The glider could carry a lightweight tank or many equipped soldiers. The Battle of Britain gave the Allied control over their own air. Using German gliders would be suicide under these conditions. So the plan for using the gliders dropped. But they equipped the glider with engines so they could use them as transport airplanes. First they used 4 engines, quickly they placed 2 more. The name changed to Messerschmidt 323. The nickname was "Gigant".

Me 323 "Gigant" with 4 engines

Control over the air was not the only problem of the Messerschmidt 321. Getting it into the air was another. There were no giant towplanes at that time. And the pilots were a bit skeptic about this plane made of wood, bars and fabric. They had to use 3 airplanes ("Troika-Schlepp") at once to tow the prototype into the air. The pilots of the testflights found out that the airplane was very stable in the air, but that you needed a lot of arm muscles to steer the plane. Soon they added place for a co-pilot. The problem with the towplane dropped when Heinkel made their He 111 "Zwilling" ("Twin"). This was a combination of two He 111's with a extra engine in the middle. This airplane had the necessary power for the Messerschmidt 321. Still they used rocket assistance to get the fully loaded gliders in the air.

Messerschmidt 323 "Gigant" with open front door and soldiers leaving

The Messerschmidt 321 had several new features. It has a landinggear that it could drop. Well, it was not a landinggear, it was more sort of a take-off gear. The glider landed on skids. Also new was a loadingdoor at the front. Using a ramp tanks, trucks, artillery or soldiers could easily enter the glider. When the glider landed, the tank drove through the frontdoor. The Messerschmidt 323 gave the possibility to check the center of gravity while loading. Somehow they could see this at the landinggear (the "Gigant" had a new landinggear configuration of 10 landingwheels). But the most remarkable thing were the gunners who were placed in the wing. Like we said in the sector "Theory, Goal of your design, Larger airplanes", you can place pilots, gunners or other personnel anywhere you like in a giant.

As you can see, the Messeschmidt 323 is one of my favorites. I really love the simplicity of the design.

Messerschmidt 321

Span 55 m 180 ft 5 1/3 in
Length 28,15 m 92 ft 4 1/4 in
Height (on take-off dolly) 10,15 m 33 ft 3 1/2 in
Wing area 300 m2 3 229,17 sq ft
Maximum towing speed (He 111Z) 220,5 km/h 137 mph
Maximum towing speed (Troika-Schlepp) 212,5 km/h 132 mph
Minimum towing speed 159 km/h 99 mph
Normal gliding speed 140 km/h 87 mph
Glide ratio 1:8
Take-off distance (Troika-Schlepp and four 1102 lb rockets at normal loaded weight) 1204 m 3 950 ft
landing distance 400 m 1 310 ft

Messerschmidt 323 E-2 "Gigant"

Span 55 m 180 ft 5 1/3 in
Length 28,5 m 93 ft 6 in
Height 9,6 m 31 ft 6 in
Wing area 300 m2 3 229,17 sq ft
Weight (empty equipped) 29 208 kg 64 066 lb
Weight (maximum loaded) 45 230 kg 99 210 lb
Engines (Gnôme-Rhône 14N 48/49) 6 x 1140 hp
Speed (no load) 252 km/h 157 mph at sea level
Speed (maximum load) 238 km/h 148 mph at sea level
Economical cruising speed 225 km/h 140 mph at sea level
Range (normal tanks, maximum load) 1 100 km 684 mls at sea level
Climbing speed (maximum load) 264 m/min 866 ft/min
During WW II another giant was born on paper. Howard Hughes was a man who loved to create airplanes which reaches the limits. It had to be the fastest, the smallest or ... the largest. And this is the third reason to create a giant. The will to have the greatest (sounds like a typical male problem). Hughes design, named the "Hercules" (but better known under the name "The Spruce Goose"), was a answer to the need for transport in the Pacific. At that time transport by boat was dangerous. Many U-boats were waiting. So Howard Hughes wanted a large airplane to transport all what was needed by air. The design was on paper during the war, but the airplane flew after the war.
Hughes had many problems building the prototype. Mostly thanks to himself. He never could make up his mind. He changed the design several times. We will not bore you to death explaining all the other problems he had. But we can tell you ... the plane was huge.
It flew once. Not that it lacked the power, but Howard Hughes didn't get permission to take off. Hughes wouldn't be Hughes if he didn't show to the public that it could take off. So he got permission to make a taxi-run on water. During this taxi-run, he applied power, set the flaps on take-off and ... took off. Yes, it could fly. After this flight it was stored in a dome near the place where it flew. Recently they moved the whole airplane to Evergreen Aviation Educational Center in Mc Minnville in Oregon.

The Hughes HK-1 is still the largest airplane build.

Hughes HK-1 "Spruce Goose"

Wingspan 97,54 m 319.92 ft
Fuselage height Approx. 9,14m Approx. 30 ft
Cruising speed Approx. 322 km/h Approx. 200 mph
Maximum range Approx. 4828 km Approx. 3 000 miles
Endurance (cruise) 20,9 hrs.
Service ceiling 6 370 m 20 900 ft
Engines 8 Pratt and Whitney R-4360, 3 000 hp each
Propellers 8 four bladed Hamilton Standards, diameter 5,23 m (17' 2'').
There is another plane that is quite remarkable in design and size. What happened? Several airline companies dropped their Stratocruisers when turboprop and jet-engines became available in civil airtransport. Stratocruisers could be bought at a cheap price. Most were bought by Lee Mansdorf and were stocked in California. Former bomber- and transportpilot John M. "Jack" Conroy lived there. NASA had in that time problems moving segments of the Saturn-rocket for the Apollo space project. Conroy left his job, took a loan and started work on a conversion of a Stratocruiser. He added 5 meter (16.40 ft) to the fuselage and placed a enormous "tube" in top of the lower deck.  Total internal stockvolume became 826,5 m3 (29 187 cubic ft). The "Guppy" was born.

Guppy 201 of Airbus Industries

In 1960 he presented the concept to NASA-officers. NASA was pleased with the idea and asked for exclusive user-rights for two models. Airbus Industries was also interested and bought some models to transport Airbus-components to the final assembly. There were several sorts of Guppy's. The last version was the 201 with Allison turboprops.

I once saw a weird airplane over Aalst, Belgium at rather high altitude. It had a very fat fuselage. It could only have been a Guppy.

Conroy / Aero Spacelines Guppy 201

Span 47,62 m 156.2 ft
Length 43,84 m 143.8 ft
Wing area 182,52 m2 1965 sq.ft.
Cargoroom diameter 7,5 m 24.6 ft
Cargoroom length 34 m 111.5 ft
Weight (empty) 45 359 kg 100 000 lb
Weight (maximum take-off) 77 110 kg 170 000 lb
Maximum loading 24 494 kg 54 000 lb
Cruise (on 7620 m) 407 km/h 253 mph
Maximum cruise 463 km/h 288 mph
Climbing speed 457 m/min 1 500 ft/min
Ceiling 7 620 m 25 000 ft
Range (max cargo) 813 km 505 mi
Engines (Allison 501-D22 C turboprop) 4 x 3663 kW (4912 hp)
I know that the largest operational airplane is a design of the Russian firm Antanov. I will describe his forerunner, the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy. "Huh? Forerunner?" I hear you think. Let's say that the main difference between the Antanov and the earlier produced (first flight 30 June 1968) Galaxy is the tail. The stabilator of the Galaxy is placed on top of the vertical tail. The Antanov has a conventional tail. The difference in size is a few meters (feet). I don't blame the Russians of making a copy, it is like the Russians said about their own design of the Space Shuttle "The laws of aerodynamics are the same to Americans or Russians".

The Galaxy was possible thanks to his engines. These new engines made it possible to design this airplane with just 4 engines. Using any other engine would lead to a lot more engines needed. It has the same basic shape as the smaller C-141Starlifter. A high wing with engines mounted in gondolas underneath, a T-tail and a raised backsection with loadingdoors. But it has also a new design of nose. The nose can be raised to clear access to the cargoroom. The Galaxy has the unique feature of "Roll in - Roll out". This means that a vehicle can ride onboard and ride off without turning or riding backwards.

The airplane has in a upperdeck a roomy cockpit in the nose and a extra room for 73 passengers behind the main wing spar. The cargoroom is 5,79 m (19 ft) wide and 36,88 m (121 ft) long and has a volume of 985 m2 (34786 cubic ft.). Height varies between 2,9 m (9.5 ft) (under the wing) to 4,11 m (13.5 ft) in the back section.

Lockheed C-5 Galaxy with open nose and loading ramp not lowered

Lockheed C-5 Galaxy

Span 67,88 m
Length 75,54 m
Height 19,85 m
Wing area 575,98 m2
Weight (empty operated) 169 643 kg
Weight (maximum take-off) 379 657 kg
Maximum Speed 919 km/h
Maximum cruise speed 908 km/h
Climbing speed (at sea level) 525 m/min
Ceiling (at 278 960 kg) 10 895 m
Range (maximum) 10 411 km
Range (max. cargo) 5526 km
Engines (General Electric TF39-GE-1C turbofans 4 x 19 522 kg (191,27 kN)
I know that there are many other giants. But this collection has some unique features.
What will happen in the future? Will airplanes become bigger? Will a operational airplane be build that is even larger than the "Spruce Goose"?
I read that McDonnell-Douglas has a "Megaplane" on paper. It would be a two deck blended wing body (BWB) for 800 passengers. Range will be 7000 miles (11 250 km). Cruise speed 590 mph (900 km/h). Airbus Industries studies a "FW-900". It is a giant flying wing for 900 passengers. Range 7 457 miles (12 000 km). 4 turbofan engines would be mounted on pylons on the back of the wing-fuselage. Each would deliver 100 000 lbst (444 kN). Span 315 ft (96 m). And this span is very near the span of the Hughes HK-1.
Why such a large planes for passengers transport? Studies showed that bigger planes made the price for a flight cheaper. That is not hard to believe. I have one question. Where will they find airfields for these giants, will there be flying boats again? Only the future will tell.

In the sector "Few of my thoughts" you will soon find one of my own ideas. It will probably fit in the sector utopic airplanes, but it was pure fun to use my imagination in those proportions. Just try it yourself.