The big stuff moves us.
And for many folks who appreciate the world's biggest airplanes -- that statement is true both figuratively and literally.
For 23 years at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, aircraft mechanic John Taylor left his sweat and elbow grease on dozens of C-5 Galaxies -- one of the largest military aircraft on Earth.
"Even though I was on the aircraft every night, I just marveled at how the thing got off the ground," Taylor said. His wife didn't quite get it. She would ask him why he worked on C-5s all week, and then chose to spend precious weekends taking pictures of the huge planes.
"It's kind of in your blood," he explained.
The gigantic C-5s make Dover an awe-inspiring destination for aviation enthusiasts -- for sure -- but even among non-enthusiasts, big planes turn heads. The Galaxy and its successor, the Super Galaxy, are among dozens of giant aircraft models that may soar high and loud above your hometown -- prompting comments like, "What is THAT?" or "That's what I call a big plane."
They have names like the Jumbo Jet, the Mriya, the Dreamlifter and the Super Guppy.
One of the largest military aircraft
A few interesting tidbits:
It can fly eight school buses from Delaware to Turkey nonstop without refueling.
It's six stories tall.
Counting wings, it is wider than the White House.
When it's loaded to maximum weight, it weighs more than two Statues of Liberty.
"Taking pictures outside Air Force bases can be touchy," says amateur aviation photographer Paul Carter. But it's not against the law, he says. "If you can convince the authorities that you know the rules and understand them," they'll usually let you take photos.
Plane spotting aviation enthusiasts trot the globe capturing stunning photos of aircraft like this one from the Caribbean island of St. Maarten. Maho Beach is world famous for its low flying aircraft. "If you like airplanes, Maho is like the cherry on top" of a beautiful beach vacation, says Justin Schlechter, a 747 pilot who's visited Maho several times.
Courtesy Justin Schlechter
He says it's well worth it. "Just watching something as big as a C-5 move so slowly and gracefully as it takes off still thrills me," says Carter, who's been photographing airplanes since 1982.
If Dover is too far away, try spotting C-5s at their other stations: Travis Air Force Base, California; Lackland Air Forc Base, Texas; Martinsburg, West Virginia; Memphis, Tennessee; and Westover Air Reserve Base, near Springfield, Massachusetts.
It's all big in Everett
At its facilities north of Seattle in Everett, Washington, Boeing clearly likes things big. It boasts the world's biggest building, the world's longest passenger airplane and the plane with the largest cargo hold --- all against the backdrop of one of America's highest peaks: Mount Rainier.
If you rank the world's buildings by volume, Boeing's Everett assembly facility is No. 1, says Sandy Ward, who helps run the Future of Flight Museum Aviation Center and Boeing Tour.
The sprawling 98-acre factory serves as a giant birthing room for some of Boeing's most iconic children -- the family of sevens.
"You've got 747s, 767s, Triple 7s, and 787s all under one roof -- along with around 42,000 workers," says Ward. Measuring 250 feet, one of these sevens holds the title of world's longest passenger aircraft: -- Boeing's 747-8 Intercontinental.
Boeing builds two 747-8s each month at the company's massive assembly facility outside Seattle.
There's nothing quite like the Everett facility in all of North America, the aircraft maker says. Each year, about 230,000 visitors experience the rare chance to see humongous pieces of aluminum and light-weight carbon composite transformed into speedy, sleek airliners. Watch huge wings join with plane fuselages. See workers attach powerful jet engines that will soon push the wings through the air.
Boeing's factory tour has developed an almost mythical status among aviation geeks. It's a must-see destination, like Disney parks are for many families. Actually, the factory is bigger than Disneyland, says Ward. The theme park could fit inside Boeing's factory -- and there would still be 12 acres available for covered parking.
Surprisingly, touring the titanic structure takes only about 90 minutes.
Adjacent to the factory, visitors can get all touchy feely about aviation at the Future of Flight Museum. Run your hands along the smooth surface of the 747's giant vertical tail. Sit behind the yoke in a cockpit of a classic 727 and play with its full array of instrumentation.
What else is big in Everett? In a word: Dreamlifter.
If the name sounds a lot like Boeing's new light-weight fuel efficient 787 Dreamliner, that's because the Dreamlifter is Dreamliner's Big Daddy.
So -- in addition to Everett -- where can we track down the Dreamlifter? It's been seen in Nagoya, Japan; Italy and Boeing's other 787 plant in Charleston, South Carolina.
Boeing's testing ground
Everett visitors can find Dreamlifter at the airport right next door to the Boeing factory. Paine Field Airport serves as Boeing's testing ground for its new planes -- offering endless photo opportunities that draw aircraft fans from around the world.
"Boeing gets it," says Carter, who makes the four-hour drive from his Vancouver, Washington, home more than twice a year. Sometimes, he brings his grandkids along, ages 7 and 4. "Paine Field is actually set up for the aviation enthusiast."
On the northwest corner of the airport, Boeing's "Strato Deck" offers a vantage point with the spectacular Cascade Mountains popping up in the background. Audio from airport ground control is piped in so visitors can get real-time information about which planes are about to take off.
For other viewing options, Carter offers this tip: go to the north end of the airport in the afternoon. Generally, shooting from outside the fence line is OK, as long as you don't hang out for too long. Police "just don't like loitering," warns Carter. "They get a little grumpy about that."
The airport welcomes thousands every May for Aviation Day, when new machines take flight along with World War II-era planes and other vintage aircraft.
Paine Field is a plane geek's candy store all year round -- offering sweet photo op treats like airliners with colorful new paint schemes. In addition to Dreamlifter, other big cargo air freighters such as the Antonov An-124 often can be seen rumbling down the runways.
When these planes take flight or touch the ground they stop conversations. Fingers point upward. Many who never studied aeronautics suddenly remember: This is all a mystery. It looks like magic. How the heck does that thing fly?
Last year, the world's largest passenger airliner -- the Superjumbo Airbus A380 -- marked five years in service. Seating 525 passengers in a three-class configuration -- the A380 exceeds the 747-8 by 58 seats.
At JFK, NYCAviation.com founder Phil Derner likes nearby Howard Beach for watching A380 departures from runway 31L. From this vantage point, he can see the Superjumbo make a big lumbering turn as it climbs. He can also hear its engines building up power and get a nice profile view while the plane banks 180 degrees.
"A century ago, aircraft were literally not much more than motorized kites," said Derner. "Now this thing comes along weighing in at a staggering 1.2 million pounds? It doesn't take an enthusiast to think that's badass."
World's largest airplane
Wanna get an eyeful of airplane? Track down the Antonov An-225 "Mriya," -- the Russian word for Dream.
This six-engine bad boy is a one-of-a-kind cargo jet often described as the world's largest airplane.
Built in the 1980s, Mriya was meant to shoulder a Soviet space shuttle. If you stood it up on its nose, it would be about as tall as a 27-story building.
Somehow, engineers figured out how to outfit it with six giant jet engines and 290-foot wings ... and well, it's kind of a building that flies.
Back at Dover Air Force Base, Air Mobility Command Museum deputy director John Taylor had big news to share. No museum anywhere has ever obtained a C-5 to put on permanent display. Until now.
"We're going to get the first C-5," Taylor said, barely able to contain his excitement. "It will be the crown jewel of the museum when it arrives. We will be only museum in the world to have a C-5 on display."
He wasn't talking about just any C-5. This plane's tail reads 9014, an aircraft Taylor helped keep flying decades ago when he was a mechanic.
The plane is set to arrive some time in October, and Taylor expects it to be on public display about a month later. Eventually -- perhaps as soon as next spring -- visitors will be able to board the C-5 and perhaps sit in the cockpit.
"We want to allow visitors to get on board this aircraft, to touch this aircraft, to experience the size of it," said Taylor. "That's what we're all about. It's our obligation to preserve these planes for future generations."
Although Taylor insisted it wasn't planned, a novelist couldn't have written a better full-circle ending.
After all this time, C-5 No. 9014 will return to the former airman who for years cared for this majestic, gravity-defying giant.
As Taylor put it, "We're awful lucky that it happened that way."
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