The Incredible, Impossible, Fake Airliners of YouTube
There is no such thing as a sextuple-decker Airbus A380. Obviously. You don't have to be an aviation expert to realize this sort of monstrosity could never get off the ground. Still, whenever I see one pop up on YouTube, I basically have to click it. That's the reason it even exists at all.
Impossible planes—Photoshopped Frankenstein aircraft with dozens of engines or ludicrous, bulbous fuselages—are all over YouTube. A quick search of "world's largest plane" will turn up dozens. Watch any one and you're like to find a montage of stolen, uncredited clips, slathered in dozens of ads and uploaded by shady accounts with names like "STORM FORCE" or "Techno Blog." Even with low-res video, egregious watermarking, and annoying pop-ups, these videos con their way into millions of views thanks in large part to the lie of their thumbnails.
Extreme and misleading cover art is a tale as old as YouTube. It used to require meticulous planning and shooting back when YouTube automatically selected thumbnails from a video's actual footage. But now that YouTube allows custom thumbnails that don't need to reflect a frame from the actual video, lying takes a lot less effort.
Big Planes, it turns out, are remarkably easy to lie about. Many of the world's actual largest actual planes look pretty unbelievable even without editing. The bulbous foreheads of the Airbus A300-600ST Beluga or the Aero Spacelines Super Guppy look a lot as if someone inflated them with software. The enormous Stratolauncher does look an awful lot like two smaller planes Photoshopped together. NASA's craziest X-planes look like someone copy and pasted in about a half-dozen extra propellers. On top of all this, the sheer blue background of a clear sky and the relatively blandness of an airliner's body makes it easy for even inexperienced Photoshoppers to create pretty believable modifications with little actual skill.
And so the fake planes are legion. In my travels across cyberspace as a Popular Mechanics blogger, I have discovered a few distinct families. Come with me on a journey.
In real life, multideck airplanes top out at a maximum of two decks. Emirates has toyed with the idea of a triple decker but seemingly seriously and also in jest, but for now no such thing exists. In fact, air travel is trending toward smaller planes.
Fake planes, however, can have as many as six or seven decks, turning them into stretched-out flying flounders.
Another way to blow a plane way out of proportion is simply to add more engines onto the wings. In real life, engine record-holders include the WWI-era Dornier Do X flying boat with its 12 propellers and the octo-engined B-52. In bizarro YouTube world, those numbers climb much higher.
Multi-engined fake planes are usually based on a Soviet Antonov An-225 Mriya (an actual record-setting plane in length and weight), its form modified to fit as many engines as the wings have visual room for. Spacing and sizing errors are a dead giveaway, and absolutely hilarious to boot.
If five decks or two dozen engines is a little ostentatious for your fake-plane taste, then perhaps you prefer a simple lengthening. In reality, the longest airliner is the Boeing 747-8 at 250 feet, 2 inches. But YouTube thumbnails take that record and stretch it out much, much further, often leaving strangely-placed engines and wings, and sometimes adding a few more for good measure.
There's no law on the books that says a plane can only have one fuselage. One of the largest actual planes in actual existence—Stratolaunch's rocket-carrying monster-plane—uses a double-fuselage design to boast the world's longest wingspan. Maybe that's why Photoshoppers seem to think they can get away with just gluing two Boeings together at the wing.
Not every strange Photoshop creation fits cleanly into a taxonomy of illusion, and so there's are stragglers that are too strange to even classify.