In October 2007, the Airbus A380, the world’s largest airliner, took off from the runway for the first time with passengers on board. It is 73 meters long and measures almost 80 meters from one wingtip to the other. That’s big. But the A380 is not the largest aircraft of all. This record is held by the Antonov AN-225, a cargo aircraft with a length of 85.30 meters and a wingspan of 88.40 meters. The Antonov AN-225, a six-engine cargo aircraft, is the largest aircraft currently in service in the world. The A380 is only superior in height as at 24.10 meters, it towers over the Antonov AN-225 by a good 6 meters.
Anyone who now devises constructions in visionary heights that significantly exceed the dimensions of the previous airplanes will be quickly brought back to the ground. With the A380 and the Antonov AN-225, airplanes will soon reach their physical limits. Because the larger the aircraft get, even with the lightweight construction, the heavier they get. The A380 has a takeoff weight of 560 tons. Much more will not work. You also have to take a huge amount of fuel with you to power the giant engines that would be required on even larger aircraft.
Nevertheless, drafts for the airplanes of tomorrow are naturally slumbering in the drawers of the major aircraft manufacturers. One variant may at some point be the so-called only wing body. It would be one of several conceivable alternatives and would mean farewell to the current configuration. Because while current aircraft always consist of an elongated fuselage with swept wings, the wing-only body is just a wing. This would then contain both cargo and passengers. But that’s all a long way off as the development cycles for transport aircraft extend over several decades.
How the aircraft of the future looks like, will depend largely on what it has to be able to do. With the A350-900R currently being developed, manufacturers are currently relying on an ultra-long-haul aircraft with a range of 17,600 kilometers. But are such hyper-long distances the last resort? Is it economical to drag an insane amount of kerosene along and transport it for 16 hours until it is consumed by the engines in the 17th hour?
The developers are concerned with these and other questions. One aspect that must never be ignored is that these giants must remain manageable. The big airplanes can hardly be flown without electronic support. If in the most unlikely event of an A380, all of the electronic controls failed, the guys up front would have a hard time getting the plane back home manually.
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And of course, wind and weather also play an important role. As the size of an aircraft increases, so do the difficulties in the wind. The area exposed to the wind is getting bigger and bigger. What happens with only a slight gust when it hits such a giant roll? It will take a while until all of these parameters are satisfactorily clarified and a completely different aircraft model is ready for the market. For the next 20 to 30 years, the A380 is the last word of wisdom.