receive many questions which is the largest military cargo airplane
in the world. All of these military airlifters mentioned here are
incredibly large. Our analysis is based on specifications, available
data and technical comparison. The main factors are size of the
aircraft and their payload capacity. This list do not contains aircraft that are currently
under development of at the prototype stage. It includes only
operational cargo planes.
top 10 largest military cargo aircraft in the world are these:
The Antonov An-124 Ruslan (NATO designation Condor) is named after a
legendary giant. It is broadly similar to the slightly smaller
Lockheed C-5 Galaxy. Currently the An-124 is the world's largest
production military aircraft. Only the one-off
Antonov An-225 is bigger.
of this long-range heavy transport plane started in 1971. It
made its first flight in 1982 and entered service with the Soviet
Air Forces in 1987. With its introduction
the An-124 has set a number of world records. A total of 54
Antonov An-124 Ruslan aircraft were delivered by 1995.
Currently over 40 are in service. Most of these aircraft are in
commercial use and only a small number
are assigned directly to the air transport arm of the Russian air
forces. However there is provision for many civil-registered
aircraft to be called into military service if necessary. Russia
remains the only military operator of the Ruslan.
aircraft has a maximum payload capacity of 150 t. The cargo hold of
this strategic airlifter can carry virtually any load, including
virtually all Russian armored combat vehicles, helicopters, and
other oversized cargo.
Lockheed C-5 Galaxy (USA)
C-5 Galaxy is the workhorse of US strategic airlift capability. Also
it is the largest aircraft, routinely operated by the US forces.
First operational C-5 aircraft was delivered in 1969. A total of 131
aircraft were delivered until 1989. About 125 of them are still
The Galaxy has a cavernous interior with roll-on/roll-off
capability. Cargo can be accessed at both ends of the aircraft. It
has a maximum payload capacity of 118 t. It can carry two Abrams
main battle tanks, or 7-10 8x8 armored vehicles (Stryker
or LAV-25), or 16
These transport aircraft are operated by US Air Mobility Command,
Air Force Reserve Command, Air National Guard units. At least two
aircraft are assigned to Air Forces Special Operations Command and
fulfill a special forces role.
aircraft are planned to be operational until 2030.
is the world's largest turboprop aircraft. At the time of its
introduction in 1965 it was the world's largest aircraft. The An-22
was extensively used in major military airlifts of the Soviet Union.
However it was never produced in large numbers.
has a payload capacity of 80 t. It can carry four
airborne combat vehicles.
airlifter can operate from unprepared airfields. It can take-off and
land on soft ground.
Currently only 6 of these aircraft are in service with the Russian Air
Force. These appear to be operated by an independent military
transport aviation squadron. Additional 18 planes are in storage.
The Antonov An-22 outperformed the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III on
this list. Technically this aircraft is a bit larger and can
carry slightly more weight. Even though the C-17 is a much newer and
much more advanced machine.
Boeing C-17 Globemaster III
Boeing C-17 Globemaster III is a workhorse of the USAF, flying regular
strategic supply missions around the world. ThDevelopment of this
heavy transport aircraft commenced in the 1980s. It made its first
flight in 1991 and reached initial operational capability in 1995. It
Lockheed C-141 StarLifter. A total of 250 of these aircraft were
built. It is used by US Air Force and some other countries around
has a payload capacity of 76.6 t. It can carry
Abrams tank, or three
8x8 armored vehicles, or three
Apache helicopters, or air-droppable
platforms up to a weight of 49.8 t. It can also carry a mix of
palletized cargo and vehicles.
The C-17 can routinely operate from airfields previously denied to
jet-powered transports. If required, it can operate from unpaved,
The Y-20 is a new
Chinese transport aircraft. It was developed by Xian Aircraft
Corporation (XAC) with Russian and Ukrainian assistance.
Nevertheless it is the first heavy airlifter developed in China.
Development commenced in the 1990s. In 2006 the program became a
national priority. The Y-20 made its first flight in 2013. China
became the forth country in the world, after United States, Russia
and Ukraine, that developed a 200-ton military cargo jet. This
military transport aircraft entered service with the Chinese air
force in 2016.
The Y-20 has
a payload capacity of around 60-66 t. It can carry most large combat
and support vehicles, including the
series tanks. In terms of payload the Y-20 fits between a larger
Boeing C-17 Globemaster III (77 t) and similar in size
Russian Ilyushin Il-76 (50 t). The Y-20 is also superior to the
Il-76 in terms of aerodynamic arrangement and performance.
The Y-20 can
be even seen as strategic airlifter. It has sufficient range to
reach most of the Europe, Africa, Australia and Alaska. Previously
China lacked such heavy military transport capability.
the Y-20 is typical for a modern military heavy transport aircraft.
It is powered by four Russian D-30KP2 turbofan engines. These were
developed by Solovyev Design Bureau back in the 1960s. It has been
reported that in the future indigenous WS-20 engines will be used.
Wings for this transport were developed by Ukrainian Antonov Design
Bureau. Also it shows some influence of the Boeing C-17 in the tail
section and cargo compartment and influence of the
Airbus A400M in the landing gear. Composite materials are widely
used in the airframe to keep the weigh low.
Ilyushin Il-76 (Russia)
The Il-76 (NATO designation Candid) was the first Soviet four-jet
heavy transport. Its production commenced in 1974. Over 800 of these
military cargo aircraft were built.
Together with the
An-12 it formed the backbone of the Soviet Airlift
Command throughout the Cold War. It
was used to fly strategic military cargos into front-line air bases
in the most extreme operational conditions. This aircraft is still
in service with a number of countries.
The Il-76 has a maximum payload capacity of 50 t. It was designed to
deliver heavy vehicles and machinery to remote, poorly-serviced
airfields. It can operate from short and unpaved runways. The Il-76
can cope with the worst weather conditions experienced in Siberia
and Arctic regions.
C-2 is a new Japan's medium-range military transport. It became
operational with Japan's Air Self-Defense Forces (JASDF) in 2016.
aircraft are planned to be delivered. These will eventually replace
a fleet of older
Kawasaki C-1 and
Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules tactical cargo aircraft.
C-2 follows the lines of the previous C-1. Its layout is typical for
a modern military cargo aircraft. In order to decrease development
and production costs it was developed in parallel with the
maritime patrol aircraft and shares major airframe parts, basic wing
structure and system components. This military transport has similar
dimensions and payload capacity to the
C-2 can carry much more cargo than aircraft it replaces. It has a maximum payload capacity of
37.6 t. The older C-1 can carry only 10-12 t and C-130 Hercules - 19
t. The Kawasaki C-2 can carry around 120 troops, or 8 standard air
cargo pallets or one UH-60J helicopter.
Airbus A400M (International)
A400M Atlas is an international project. This medium-range aircraft
made its first flight in 2009. This airplane was ordered by 10
countries. Mayor operators will be Germany (60), France (50), Spain
(27), United Kingdom (25) and Turkey (10). First production aircraft
were delivered in 2013. The A400M will replace a variety of
Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules and
design of the Airbus A400M incorporates extensive use of composite
materials. It is fitted with turboprop engines. These engines were
selected because of a number of advantages, such as cruise fuel
efficiency and lower operating cost.
has a maximum payload capacity of 37 t. It can carry two 8x8 armored
vehicles. This military transport can take-off and land on soft
semi-prepared airfields and requires relatively short runways. It
was also design to operate with limited or no ground facilities.
Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules
Super Hercules was developed by Lockheed Martin. It is the latest
production version of the
C-130 Hercules. The Super Hercules made its first flight in
1996. It replaced in production the previous C-130H. Deliveries of
this tactical airlifter commenced in 1998. By 2014 over 280 Super
Hercules aircraft of various models have been delivered to at least
14 countries. Largest operators are US Air Force, US Marine Corps,
Australia, Canada, India, Italy and the United Kingdom. In the Royal
Air Force service this aircraft is known as Hercules C5.
aircraft has a payload capacity of 19 t. It can carry 92 soldiers,
or 6 pallets, or 2-3
or a single
M113 armored personnel carrier.
version, the C-130J-30 has a payload capacity of 20 t. It can carry
128 soldiers, or 8 pallets.
An-12 (NATO reporting name Cub) was produced between 1957 and 1973.
In many aspects it is similar to the
Lockheed C-130 Hercules. Over 1 200 of these aircraft were
built. This aircraft was produced in many variants. It was the most
important transport in Soviet military service. Together with the
Il-76 it formed the backbone of the Soviet Airlift Command
throughout the Cold War. Also it has been widely exported. It is
still widely used around the world. Its unlicensed copy, the
Y-8 continues to be produced and upgraded in China.
has a maximum payload capacity of 20 t. It can carry two
airborne combat vehicles. It is broadly similar to that of the
Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules. However the An-12 weights
less and is slightly smaller.