The World's Largest Airliner You've Never Heard Of

by FliteTest | June 25, 2018 | (5) Posted in Just Fun

It had a greater wingspan than a Boeing 747 and was first flown in 1949 - this is the story of the Bristol Brabazon.

Built for elegance, style and splendor, in the late forties, the 230ft wingspan Brabazon was the largest aircraft that had ever existed. It was the result of a desire for grandeur and technological advances that made it possible.The dream became a reality, but was it too late?

The Technological Challenge of the Age

With a length of 177ft and a wingspan the same as London's Waterloo Bridge, the gigantic Brabazon wasn't a straightforward project. It was bigger than anything that had flown before. It also weighed a staggering 130,000kg. To put this into perspective, a fully loaded B-17 weighed around 24,500kg.

A critical issue with the design, that the Bristol engineers just had to get right, surrounded the powerplant required to get the airplane into the sky and cruising at 250mph. The plane was built at a point in time where turboprops and jet turbines for airliners were still in their infancy. Instead, the aircraft company had to resort to eight-piston engines which drove four counter-rotating propellers. Although it just about worked, this setup was an engineering nightmare and quite impractical. They also ended up providing poorer performance than expected. The aircraft was meant to cruise at 250mph but ended up falling short of that target by around 100mph - not great for a transatlantic aircraft. 

Unrivaled Elegance 

The concept of the Brabazon as an airliner was somewhat different to how we think about air travel today. The aircraft was, quite literally, made to imitate an ocean liner; travel would be luxurious, spacious and relaxing. You could enjoy all the same comforts as traveling by ship, aside from taking a stroll about the decks. 

Today, it's almost unthinkable that air travel could be this opulent. There were sleeping cabins (actual rooms like a hotel), a gallery and a dining cabin. Perhaps the most unbelievable was the inclusion of an entire cinema in the rear of the fuselage! Talk about in-flight entertainment. 

A Humongous White Elephant

Sadly, the Brabazon was built for an era that no longer existed in the late 1940s. Travel posters of huge flying boats and luxury airliners were replaced with advents for affordable transport for the masses. As technology caught up with the grand aspirations for the future, society decided they wanted something else and the Brabazon was consigned to the history books. 

It's unsurprising in many ways that this was the outcome of the Brabazon story. The aircraft was designed to carry just 100 people at a time across the Atlantic. No airlines placed an order instead deciding to purchase smaller airplanes that carried more people. In 1953, the Bristol aircraft company called it a day and the sole Brabazon that had been built was scrapped. 

News Reel Footage

If you'd like to see what this monster looked like in flight, here's a great bit of newsreel footage. It shows the very first flight of the giant airplane in 1949. 

Read more about this aircraft here!

Article by James Whomsley

Editor of

Instagram @jameswhomsley


Nathan_116 on June 28, 2018
This plane is awesome!!!! Thanks for writing these articles about old planes. They are super interesting and informative. Keep it up!!
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Razor7177 on July 4, 2018

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The World's Largest Airliner You've Never Heard Of