This question about engine transportation made me wonder what is the size of the biggest item ever transported. Then I remembered that it should have been a space shuttle (either Buran or the American Space Shuttle), but those items are no longer transported. Nowadays whole aircraft sections are transported, thanks to A300-600ST and B747LCF.

Are there cargo items bigger than a high by-pass ratio jet engine or an aircraft section that are transported by air today (in 2015)? How are those item handled?

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    $\begingroup$ Today no, in the recent past it was the space shuttle. An entire aircraft $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 23, 2015 at 13:58
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    $\begingroup$ Is SpaceShipTwo considered "cargo" akin to the shuttle? $\endgroup$
    – Jamiec
    Commented Apr 23, 2015 at 14:49
  • $\begingroup$ does the size of the cargo count? A small aircraft can be larger than a large aircraft section... Or an M-1 battle tank, or a patrol boat, both of which have been transported by C-17s. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 14:05

3 Answers 3


According to Wikipedia, the An-225 is the world's largest cargo aircraft and it's transported both the heaviest and longest items of cargo ever carried by air:

On 11 August 2009, the heaviest single cargo item ever sent via air freight was loaded onto the Antonov 225. At 16.23 metres (53.2 ft) long and 4.27 metres (14.0 ft) wide, its consignment, a generator for a gas power plant in Armenia along with its loading frame, weighed in at a record 189 tonnes (417,000 lb)


On 11 June 2010, the An-225 carried the world's longest piece of air cargo, when it flew two new 42-meter test wind turbine blades from Tianjin, China

It's also carried the Buran spacecraft (the 'Soviet space shuttle'), which was actually what the aircraft was originally built for.

The An-225 is still in operation and the operator gives some examples of large cargo that can be carried:

The aircraft has the spacious cargo compartment with length of 43.32 m, width of 6.4 m and height of 4.4 m, that allows carrying a variety of cargoes inside. For instance,

  • sixteen standard aeronautical containers of UAC−10 type;
  • 50 cars;
  • single piece of cargoes up to 200 t (turbines, generators, dump trucks − Belaz, Kamatsu, Euclid, etc.).

When you are not restricted by the size of a cargo hold, your cargo can become much bigger. See below how a Mil-26 lifts the fuselage and wing root of a Tu-134. I have not checked whether this is a record, but I would expect that the world record will involve the Mil-26 somehow.

Mil-26 lifting a Tu-134 carcass, seen from below

Mil-26 lifting a Tu-134 carcass, seen from below (source)

  • $\begingroup$ I almost forgot an helicopter can carry cargo thanks to sling! $\endgroup$
    – Manu H
    Commented Apr 24, 2015 at 13:22
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    $\begingroup$ Hmmm... So, I guess it depends on how you define 'aircraft section' as to whether this counts as "bigger than an aircraft section" or whether it counts as being an aircraft section. :) It's at least bigger than a fuselage section. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented May 10, 2015 at 2:42
  • $\begingroup$ @reirab Chinooks and Super Stallions (and others) lifted entire jet fighters, including F-4 Phantoms, not small aircraft by any means, in Vietnam. They could do it today, and maybe do on occasion (maybe in Afghanistan). $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 14:03
  • $\begingroup$ @jwenting: … but if you need to airlift an MH-47E from 8500 ft, the Mi-26 is your only bet! $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 14:58

I'm not sure if this counts since it's still in development and production, but Scaled Composites' Stratolaunch Carrier Aircraft (dubbed the Roc) will almost certainly shatter any existing records for payload capacity. Its mating system is designed to hold up to 500,000 lb (230,000 kg.) Its intended payload, like that of WhiteKnight and WhiteKnight 2, is a rocket stack mounted between the twin fuselages to be air launched. At least as of December 2011, the first flight test was indeed scheduled for 2015, so I guess it technically does meet the 'in 2015' criterion for this question. :)

The specific 'item to be carried' in this case is the Pegasus II rocket stack with a gross weight of 465,000 lb. (211,000 kg,) according to Aviation Week.

Stratolaunch carrier aircraft carrying a Pegasus II:

Stratolaunch Carrier mated to Pegasus II
Source: BusinessInsider

The carrier aircraft will also have the largest wingspan of any aircraft to date:

Stratolaunch Carrier Aircraft wingspan comparison
Source: Wikipedia

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    $\begingroup$ On first glance I thought that 3D model was made up in Kerbal Space Program :) $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 24, 2015 at 12:50
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexanderJohansen what do you think SC uses in lue of Autocad ;) $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 14:06

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