One of the great things about aviation is its ability to inspire. And what can inspire better than a record-breaking feat.
Here we have collected ten aviation world records that seem to us the most impressive, considering the effort, the work and the ingenuity that went into achieving them. Not all of them are current ones, and not all of them are officially recognized – yet those two criteria pale in the light of the impressiveness of those achievements.
10. Project Daedalus: Longest human-powered flight
In 1988 Greek cyclist Kanellos Kanellopoulos flew a distance of over 115 kilometers (71.5 miles) in an aircraft without an engine. It was a part of project Deadalus by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which resulted the construction of an impressive high-tech airplane with a wingspan of 34 meters and weight of only 31 kilograms, all powered by Kanellopoulos’ leg muscles. The aircraft stayed airborne for almost three hours, achieving a feat that many would think impossible, and the record that has not been broken since.
9. Caproni Ca.161: Flight altitude for piston-driven aircraft
In 1938 an Italian pilot Mario Pezzi took purpose-built Caproni Ca.161 to an altitude of 17,083 meters (56,047 ft). It was an absolute record at the time, achieved in open-cockpit biplane akin to those that flew in WW1. The world needed a decade, a rocket-powered airplane, and a daredevil pilot to beat that record though, as it was broken only in 1948 by Chuck Yeager in the Bell X-1. As for piston-powered aircraft, Pezzi’s record stands to this day.
8. Airbus Zephyr 7: Longest UAV flight
Airbus Zephyr 7, a solar-powered unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), holds world’s record for longest flight without refueling, staying in the air for 14 days straight. This is just a start though, as in theory similar aircraft – high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) drones – can function for much, much longer and the future will likely see the record broken many times. While not so impressive in itself, this record shows the potential both unmanned and solar-powered aviation have.
7. Robina Asti: Oldest flight instructor
In 2020 Robina Asti became world’s oldest flight instructor, as she gave a flight lesson at the age of 99. While there are active pilots slightly older than her (by one year, to be precise), there is a large difference between simply flying an aircraft and teaching others to fly it. Robina is also a WWII veteran and an activist, giving this impressive achievement even more spice.
6. El Al Boeing 747-400: Most people carried in a single flight
In 1991 specially configured El Al Boeing 747-400 carried over a thousand people between Ethiopia and Israel. For many of those passengers the flight was not exactly pleasant, as even economy class in the cabin of the most austere airline would seem spacious by comparison. On top of that, it was an evacuation of people running from a bloody civil war. But despite those grim circumstances, the achievement still stands: that 747 carried almost twice more people than Airbus A380, World’s largest airliner, normally carries.
The exact number is not that easy to pinpoint though, as Guinnes World Records puts the number at 1088, but other sources claim up to 1122 people may have boarded the aircraft, including two babies that were born during the flight.
5. Antonov An-225 Mriya: Heaviest cargo payload
It is said that the gargantuan Antonov An-225 Mriya has broken over a hundred of world records – the largest take-off weight and the heaviest empty weight amongst them. But the record that epitomizes this aircraft the most must be the one of the heaviest airlifted cargo: in 2001 it took off with four main battle tanks in its bay, totaling at 253,820 kg (559,580 lb) of weight – that is more than five Airbus A320s, or an empty Boeing 747, and just several tons shy of an empty weight of the Mriya itself.
4. Vesna Vulović: Highest fall without parachute
The story of Serbian flight attendant Vesna Vulović is well known. It is also the grimmest aviation world record on this list by far.
In 1972, after a bomb exploded on Yugoslav Airlines Flight 367, Vesna plunged down from the altitude of 10,160 meters (33,330 ft). She became a sole survivor of the flight, despite being heavily injured. Guinness world record book still recognized this as the highest fall without parachute, and discounting tragic circumstances, the story is impressive indeed.
3. Airspeed record for air breathing aircraft
Yes, theoretically Lockheed A-12 could fly faster than the SR-71. And yes, the North American X-15 may be world’s fastest airplane – but only if we do not count Space Shuttle as such. But the SR-71’s record of 3,529.6 kilometers per hour (2,193.2 mph) still stands for air breathing aircraft (in simpler terms – jets), as well as aircraft that could take off from the ground under their own power. And on top of it all – the SR-71 was serially-produced airplane, for which sustained supersonic flight was the main mode of operation. While hypersonic drones will most likely become quite commonplace in the future, they will never beat the romantic allure of Mach 3 flight on a Blackbird.
2. Hughes H-4 Hercules: Largest wingspan
The wingspan of the legendary Spruce Goose is almost 83 meters (over 320 ft), all made of laminated wood. This record stood for over seven decades, only to be broken by Scaled Composites Stratolaunch with the help of some space age materials and incredible engineering ingenuity. It could be said that during those seven decades there was no particular reason to build aircraft with larger wingspan, but still, it takes nothing away from the incredible achievement of Howard Hughes.
1. Robert Timm and John Cook: Longest flight
In 1958 Robert Timm and John Cook took off in their Hacienda from an airport in Nevada…. And did not land for three months. The longest flight of any flying thing in the human history so far, it was achieved with the help of a speeding truck that provided fuel and supplies, and the incredible sturdiness of the venerable 172. The pair spent 64 days, 22 hours, and 19 minutes aloft, and while the motivation behind such a feat was just a publicity stunt, to this day it stands as an unbroken record, and – according to our opinion – the most impressive one.