Many of the world's biggest planes may be flying near your hometown
Look for the C-5 Galaxy, C-5M Super Galaxy, Airbus A380, 747 Dreamlifter and Antonov An-225
Boeing boasts that its factory near Seattle is by volume the world's biggest building
Aviation enthusiasts, geeks and photographers still marvel at how giant planes fly
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.
Last year, CNN’s story detailing some of the world’s mind-blowing aviation destinations got a response so strong that we’re doing it again. This year, we found out where to stalk and photograph some of the biggest airplanes on the planet.
One of the largest military aircraft
Now retired from the military, Taylor helps run Dover’s Air Mobility Command Museum, where he answers questions about the C-5.
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.
Whenever one of these giant planes sets up for takeoff at the end of a runway, that’s the cue for aviation geeks to park their cars along the fence line and whip out their phones or other camera devices. Check out the Galaxy’s distinctive whine from its four General Electric TF-39 engines.
Eye-popping plane spotter pix
“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.
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.
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.
It’s phat. And it’s fat. Dreamlifter is a 747 with a cargo hold custom enlarged to carry huge parts for the 787. At 65,000 cubic feet, Boeing says Dreamlifter’s cargo hold is – by volume – the largest in the world. Compare that to the C-5’s cargo hold at 31,000 cubic feet.
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.”