Top 10 largest passenger aircraft that never flew
As airlines retire their legendary Boeing 747s, and the production of Airbus A380 – the largest passenger airplane ever built – is almost over, we are nearing the end of an era of the giants. But there was a different time when the hub-and-spoke model reigned supreme, and manufacturers competed with their projects to build airliners of truly gargantuan proportions.
There is only one criteria for this list: the raw amount of seats manufacturer promised to cram into the plane. No planes that have been built are included here, but all of them have to have been in the design phase, just to avoid purely fictional ideas.
10. Proposals to stretch existing single-decker airliners to fit 450 seats
Non-stretched B777X (Dan Nevill / Wikipedia photo)
More of an honorable mention than a real entry, really. Before entering the world of engineers’ fantasy, we have to mention several real wide-body aircraft that could have – or maybe will have – their body lengthened to expand into the realm of 450 seats: the Soviet-built Ilyushin Il-86’s high-capacity version was reportedly tested in 1982 and could fit 450 passengers, but has never entered service. CRAIC CR929, troubled Russian-Chinese airliner of the future, has a proposed 440-seat all-economy variant. In an eternal battle of the titans, Airbus’ proposal to stretch their A350-1000 to 455 seats in 2016 was met with Boeing’s 777X-10 that would also fit 450 passengers. Not one of these ideas were ever fully completed, and the current economic situation makes the prospect of them ever seeing the light of day doubtful.
9. Tupolev Tu-304: 500 seats
Tu-304 scheme (Aviadejavu.ru photo)
Tupolev’s attempt to enter the new twinjet wide-body airliner race, pioneered by Airbus A330 and Boeing 777, came in the early 90s. The plane – should it have ever been completed – would be slightly smaller than its competitors, with a length of 62 meters and a wingspan of 57 meters (the 777-200 spanned 63 meters and 60 meters, respectively), but would have been endowed with a peculiar oval cross-section fuselage allowing for larger seating capacity.
The aircraft was supposed to have been in service by the early-2000s, but like many Russian projects of the time, it failed to leave the drawing board due to a shortage of funding. As the new millennium started, there have been attempts to revive it as Frigate Ecojet, with a fuselage scaled down to a 300 seat capacity. As of late 2020, there has been no news of the development for several years.
8. McDonnell Douglas MD-12: 511 seats
In an attempt to compete with the Boeing 747, which has monopolized the long-haul large-capacity market, McDonnell Douglas started stretching their MD-11, the last of the great trijets. An additional engine was added somewhere in the process, turning the project into the four-engined double-decker, slightly smaller than Airbus A380. The project was approved in partnership with Taiwan Aerospace, yet despite attracting a lot of attention, it did not receive a single order. Airlines had no interest in the aircraft which was just incrementally larger and way more expensive than a B747, as even in all-economy configuration MD-12 would only fit 511 seats.
Looking in retrospect, had the MD-12 have been more successful, it would probably have had a stretched version with a capacity more suitable for a plane of its class.
7. McDonnell Douglas MD-XX: 515 seats
Regular MD-11. Just imagine it stretched (Te00 / Wikipedia photo)
Realizing that the MD-12 project was not going to happen, engineers at McDonnell Douglas scaled down their ambition. In 1994, a simple expanded version of MD-11 was presented, stretching the fuselage to fit 515 passengers in an all-economy configuration. The result was actually bigger, although not as impressive looking as the previous double-decker. It had MD-11’s original wingspan of 65 meters and a stretched length of 71.6 meters. The investment needed was still too high for the company, and the project was scrapped later the same year.
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