Who would have ever thought that Antonov logging aircraft carriers could be considered the biggest military airplane? In fact, the United States Navy refers to its aircraft carriers as the “carrier groups.” But the United States Air Force has a slightly different fleet structure and while they are referred to as air components, it may more accurately be described as an organizational structure.
It is a given that the U.S. Air Force is the biggest military aircraft, but the order of size is subject to constant change due to budget constraints and operational requirements. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly which ship in the Navy is the “largest” since there are many variables affecting how the inventory is used and when it is delivered. Nevertheless, there is one ship in the Navy that is probably the biggest in relation to its size: the an-124.
The an-124 is a very large transport plane. Its official name is the CVN-76, but this refers to only the flight deck. These large ships have a maximum takeoff weight of about ninety thousand pounds, much larger than most other aircraft. That weight makes them good for long range escort operations and ensuring that enough personnel and materials are loaded on board to safely make the trip. A recent article in Aviation Week highlighted the need for the military to reduce costs and maximize assets:
In addition to the an-124, the United States Navy has its first class aircraft carriers, the USS George Washington and USS Midway. These ships are the top 10 largest military transport military aircraft and are almost as big as the an-124. Other ships in this group include the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, a nuclear supercarrier used to fight the Vietnam War. All told, these three ships account for nearly half of the U.S Navy’s total annual spending on its aircraft carriers.
The CVN 72
A smaller ship that makes up a great portion of the American military transport aircraft is the CVN 72, a smaller version of the an-124. This mid-air refueling aircraft can carry a maximum takeoff weight of around eighty thousand pounds and is the fifth largest ship used by the navy. CVN 72s are scheduled to retire from future service in the next ten years. One interesting note about this aircraft is that it was designed to allow the Navy to use its remaining CVN ships to train its new recruits. CVN 72s will also carry additional training equipment and be used for humanitarian efforts such as evacuations of injured people from tropical regions.
If money is not an issue for you, the next biggest military transport airplane is the C 5 aboard the decommissioned USS Wisconsin. Like the an-124, the Wisconsin was designed to support long range escort operations. Its size is actually smaller than the an-124.
It is also not as large a ship and was designed to support recovery operations after an aircraft has been shot down. This aircraft was originally built to carry out a large-scale recovery operation from USS Antilles during the Korean War. The C 5 successfully retrieved the largest aircraft in the history of that war.
The last of the top ten largest military transports is the CVN 67, which is a variant of the C-17 that has been modified to carry two small unpressurized transports instead of one. The increased load made possible by the addition of two small unpressurized capsules allow for a larger overall load. The extra weight increases the operational altitude of the plane. This extra altitude also allows for a greater safety margin for flight. CVN 67s are scheduled to be retired from service in the near future.
The list of planes that make up the top 10 biggest military transport aircraft might seem surprising to some. However, if you examine these ships carefully, you will quickly see why they are so important to our military. These aircraft are used to transport troops and supplies to remote locations that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to get to use other methods. Today, there are many different types of aircraft being used for military transportation, but none can compare to the value of a well-designed an-124 cargo plane.