The AVIC AG-600 is unveiled in China. It's about the size of a Boeing 737.

The AVIC AG-600 is unveiled in China. It's about the size of a Boeing 737.

Image credit: AFP / Getty Images

China finishes building the world's largest amphibious plane

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    Image credit: AFP / Getty Images

    On November 2nd, 1947, the Hughes H-4 Hercules took off for the first time. The test run lasted less than a minute, and it traveled for around a mile. The H-4, erroneously nicknamed the Spruce Goose, was a behemoth; its wing 320-foot wingspan is still the largest of any plane to fly. But that flight was also to be its last; a proof of concept developed by Howard Hughes that was shelved shortly after the test. Now, China's state-owned aircraft maker AVIC has built an amphibious plane that fulfils Hughes' dream of a colossal sea-faring plane.

    The AG-600 is about the size of a Boeing 737, and is designed for both marine rescue missions and firefighting. It can land and take off out at sea, supporting search and rescue operations for up to 50 passengers at a time. It can also scoop up 12 tonnes of water in 20 seconds, before depositing it where it's needed. It has a maximum range of just under 2,800 miles, and a maximum take-off weight of 53.5 tonnes.

    Despite its shorter wingspan, the AG-600 will be the largest amphibious aircraft ever made, as the Spruce Goose never made it to production. AVIC hopes to sell it to nations other than China, with local press suggesting countries with "many islands," including Malaysia and New Zealand, have expressed an interest in purchasing the craft.

    The Big Picture is a recurring feature highlighting beautiful images that tell big stories. We explore topics as large as our planet, or as small as a single life, as affected by or seen through the lens of technology.

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