Aircraft designers love to stretch the perceived limits of flight to the extreme, creating aircraft no one even knew were possible. You won’t be checking any bags on these flights, and you may even be too tall to ride.
Break out your binos, because today we’re sharing a round-up of the current world record holders for smallest airplane, jet, helicopter, drone, and RC plane.
World’s Smallest Airplane: Bumble Bee II
The smallest plane in the world according to Guinness World Records is the Starr Bumble Bee II. This miniature biplane flew into record holder status in April 1988 capping off a decades-long back and forth rivalry between inventors Ray Stits and Robert Starr.
The first record holder was Ray Stits with his 1952 Sky Baby (currently on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia). Stits was too tall to fit in his own aircraft, so his friend Robert Starr piloted Sky Baby on its record-making flight. The record stood for more than thirty years, but in 1984, Star flew his own tiny plane design, Bumble Bee, into the history books.
After Bumble Bee ousted Sky Baby, Stits’ son Donald took up the torch and reclaimed the record with Baby Bird. Starr hit back one final time and reclaimed the overall smallest plane record in 1988 with current biplane title holder, Bumble Bee II.
The Stits family didn’t lose its entire claim to fame, however, since Baby Bird is still the world’s smallest monoplane. Bumble Bee II suffered a serious crash a month after claiming the smallest plane title, but Baby Bird is on display at the EAA AirVenture Museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
World’s Smallest Jet: Bede BD-5J
There are plenty of small private jets on the market, but the home-built Bede BD-5J microjet takes tiny jets to a new level. The total length of the single-engine BD-5J is just 12 feet 1 inch (3.7 meters) with a wingspan is 18 feet 8 inches (5.7 meters).
More than two hundred of the single place Bede BD-5J kit planes have been built, so the tie breaker for the smallest individual jet is aircraft weight. Juan Jimenez in San Juan, Puerto Rico is the current title holder with an aircraft weight of 358 pounds (162 kg).
The BD-5J may be tiny, but that doesn’t mean its performance specs are all equally pint-sized. Though the range is limited to about 280 miles, pilots can hit speeds of 300 mph (483 km/h) and fly up to a service ceiling of 26,000 feet.
Speaking of pilots, the most famous pilot of a BD-5J was none other than 007 himself. Roger Moore as James Bond slid into cockpit of the now famous microjet for 1983’s “Octopussy.” Fans of the series can view Bond’s jet in person at the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona.
World’s Smallest Helicopter: GEN H-4
Guiness World Records awards the title for smallest helicopter to Gen Corporation’s GEN H-4. This single seat Japanese personal helicopter has a rotor length of just 13 feet (4 meters) and weighs 154 pounds (70 kilos). Four twin-cylinder engines can generate a top speed of 55 mph (88 km/h).
The H-4’s compact size is made possible by an innovative design which maintains balance by using two sets of coaxial contra-rotating rotors to eliminate the need for a longer body and a tail rotor.
For an open air, no-cockpit aircraft, the H-4 is equipped with an impressive amount of safety features and redundancies. If one of the four engines malfunctions, the craft can continue to fly normally on the remaining three and can pull off an emergency landing with just two. A ballistic parachute above the mast offers a worst-case scenario bail-out option.
If you’re in the market for a personal helicopter, keep your eyes on the H-4. Developers claim the H-4 is as easy to fly as riding a bicycle and the controls can be mastered with just 2 hours of training. Plus, the developers are planning to add extra features on future models including under seat air bags and a foldable design for even easier transport and storage.
World’s Smallest Drone (with camera): DelFly Micro
In 2008, a team of engineers at the University of Delft in the Netherlands flew the smallest camera-equipped drone in the world. Their dragonfly-shaped micro drone has a wingspan of 4 inches (10 centimeters) and weighs a miniscule 3 grams (0.4 grams of which is the camera and transmitter). The DelFly’s video feed is transmitted live to a controller on the ground throughout the three minutes of flight time.
The Guiness World Record holding Micro is the third flying installment of the project DelFly program started by Delft’s Micro Air Vehicle Lab (MAVLab) in 2005. The design of all 5 micro air vehicles is inspired by the wing flapping action of tiny insects like the fruit fly.
World’s Smallest RC Plane: BF5
We have plenty of radio control planes to build your collection, but even our smallest models are huge compared with the world record-holding smallest RC aircraft. Built in Lancaster, United Kingdom, John Wakefield’s BF5 mini-RC plane has a wingspan of just 2.72 inches (69 mm) and weighs a scant 1.98 grams.
Wakefield built his micro-RC plane with a polystyrene foam body, carbon fiber, aluminum, and some balsa wood. It’s powered by a miniature electric motor and its flight controls include a throttle and tiny rudder.
The BF5 made history in October 2010, completing a 6 minute 56 second flight to claim the coveted small plane record.