BBC Future

Super-sized vehicles: Ten giants of the transport world

About the author

Stephen Dowling is BBC Future's associate editor.

Twitter: @sjdowling

He also blogs about analogue photography: Zorkiphoto


  • Floating leviathan
    Not quite a ship – it has no engines – Shell’s Prelude is the largest vessel ever made, measuring nearly half a kilometre and weighing 600,000 tonnes. (AFP/Getty Images)
  • Monster of the deep
    Soviet-designed Typhoon-class missile submarines continue to serve in Russia’s navy; they are the biggest submersibles built, measuring more than 570ft (175m). (US Navy)
  • Beast from Belarus
    Launched in October, the Belaz 75710 is capable of hauling 450 tonnes of material, and weighs more than 360 tonnes when empty. It is also 66 feet (20.6m) long. (Belaz US)
  • Floating and fearsome
    Another Soviet behemoth is the Zubr-class hovercraft, capable of carrying three tanks or 500 soldiers. They still serve in the navies of Russia, Ukraine and Greece. (US Navy)
  • Awesome aircraft
    The engines on the Ukrainian Antonov An-225 Mriya are capable of generating 50,000lbs of thrust – six are needed to get this titanic transport into the air. (Paul Nelhams/Flickr)
  • City on the sea
    The US Navy’s Nimitz-class carriers are the biggest warships ever built – their 1,100ft length allowing room to carry more than 5,500 people and 80 combat aircraft. (Reuters)
  • Huge helicopter
    This Soviet giant, the Mil V12, never made it to production service, but its giant size has never been surpassed; the two prototypes set many records. (Maarten Dirkse/Flickr)
  • Tower of power
    To get men to the Moon in 1969, the Apollo Space Programme needed the Saturn V, the tallest, heaviest and most powerful rocket to be successfully launched into space. (Nasa)
  • Armoured giant
    The 1930s-era Char 2C built by France remains the biggest and heaviest tank to see service, though it was little more than a propaganda tool. (Phrontis/Wikimedia Commons)
  • Tragic titan
    The biggest airship ever built was the Hindenberg, a tool of Nazi propaganda in the 1930s. The trans-Atlantic zeppelin crashed in a spectacular explosion in the US in 1937. (AFP)
In transport design, big often means better. From trucks to helicopters, submarines to rockets, building the largest of all is one of the greatest accolades.

In 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first powered flight in a plane which measured some 21ft (6m). Little more than 80 years later and Soviet aircraft designers devised an aircraft – the Antonov An-225 Mriya – which measures nearly 280ft (84m) and has a wingspan of nearly 300ft. It’s longer, in fact, than the Wright Flyer’s first flight.

The evolution of transport has put bigger in the same realm as faster – one of the main tenets of design. The Soviet-era Typhoon submarine – designed to launch nuclear missiles while submerged beneath the sea – is more than 48,000 tonnes and measures is longer than one-and-a-half football pitches. The USS Nimitz class aircraft carriers are essentially a floating town, carrying nearly 6,000 people; no wonder they weigh 100,000 tonnes and measures nearly 1,100ft (33m).

BBC Future looks at some of the most sizeable designs in the world of vehicles, including the latest two additions – a new dump truck that can haul 450 tonnes, and is nearly three stories high; and the world’s largest floating vessel completed last week, Shell’s Prelude oil support facility, which weighs more than half-a-million tonnes and is longer than the Empire State building.

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