Which commercial aircraft is the longest in the world? A simple answer is more complicated than it may at first seem. Looking over the sheer range of different widebody aircraft ever built, there are some surprisingly long aircraft that defy our eyes, but which takes the crown?
Will your guess be right? Let’s find out.
First, we should decide which aircraft we should consider to be a ‘commercial aircraft’ and where to start looking.
To make this a fair contest, we need the aircraft to be regularly used by airlines or in active production. It is not fair to say that a one-off prototype is technically the longest commercial aircraft in the world when you can’t book a ticket on it. We will also be exclusively looking at commercial ‘jet’ aircraft as opposed to other forms of propulsion (e.g. turboprop). We have also discounted private aircraft.
We will begin looking at the shortest aircraft you can fly on today.
The shortest aircraft
The shortest Airbus aircraft currently flying today is the Airbus A318 at 103 feet (31.44 m). This is very short and even shorter than the technically smaller Airbus A220, which comes in at 114 feet 9 in (35.00 m).
On Boeing’s side, the shortest aircraft on its books is the Boeing 737-100 at 94 ft (29 m). None of these aircraft (31 of them) are still flying today, and those that still exist are preserved mostly as historic pieces. However, some Boeing 737-200s are still operational at a short 100 ft 2 in (30.53 m), which is technically the shortest Boeing aircraft you can still fly on.
Additionally, we should mention that the Embraer ERJ135 is only 86 ft 5 in (26.33 m) long, and is powered by jet engines. But there are plenty of shorter aircraft than this depending on your classification of ‘commercial jet aircraft’, which is best explained and left to another article.
Which aircraft is the longest?
Skipping over the middle of the pack, which aircraft is the longest?
The crown was held by the Boeing 747 for the longest time at a length of 231 ft 10 in (70.66 m). In fact, it didn’t change much at all from the 747-100 through to the 747-400 as each model made improvements to the thrust and carrying capacity without increasing the length.
This crown was stolen by Airbus in 2001 when the A340-600 came into service. At 247 feet (75.30 m) this aircraft was very long and was a serious competitor to the Boeing 747. Alas, the industry changed around the mid-2000s, moving away from four-engine large aircraft (like the Airbus A380) and towards smaller twin-engine aircraft like the A350 and Boeing 787.
But Boeing didn’t want to be outdone and in 2010 took back its title with the flight of the Boeing 747-8I. The new version was very long at 250 ft 2 in (76.25 m) and would be crowned the king of length for the next decade. That is, until now…
Will this aircraft always be the longest?
Surprisingly, this title will be reissued within the next 12 months. Whilst the Boeing 747-8 is the longest aircraft today by our specifications (flying and in active service), in 12 months the slightly longer Boeing 777-9 will take to the skies. The difference between the two?
A shockingly small difference of only around 2.6 feet, or 0.8 meters in length. The Boeing 777-9 is 251 feet and 9 inches (76.7 m) long compared to the Boeing 747-8s 250 ft 2 in (76.2 m). This new aircraft has all the advantages of the Boeing 747 but without the hindrance of four engines.
The longer prototype has already flown earlier this year and is expected to be operating commercially by 2021.
What do you think? Did you guess right? Let us know in the comments!