January 20, 2014

Airbus' Beluga: Inside the world's strangest-looking airplane

If there's ANYTHING known about Airbus, they make BIG flying machines.... Yes, take a good look at the Airbus Beluga, with the exception of the A380, this aircraft carries large sections of the Airbus family of aircraft into Toulouse, France for final assembly. 

  • Airbus' five Belugas are made to transport huge items, such as aircraft wings
  • The Beluga was designed to end Airbus' reliance on the Boeing Super Guppy
  • Airbus may be looking at a potential "Beluga XL" replacement
(CNN) -- If you ever find yourself in the French city of Toulouse, you might just see one of the oddest-looking aircraft in the world. Popularly known as the "Beluga," because of its strong resemblance to the white Arctic whale, the Airbus A300-600ST (ST stands for Super Transporter) is unique not only in appearance, but also for the essential role it performs in European aviation.

Airbus' production centers are scattered all over the continent, a legacy of its origins as a pan-European consortium.Each factory specializes in the completion of a specific section of an aircraft.

The five Belugas, all operated by Airbus, link these plants and take the different aircraft sections to the final assembly line, either in Toulouse or Hamburg.

The Beluga A300-600ST on Takeoff - Beluga #2 of the 5 in number 
The Beluga isn't serially produced, making each an "artisan" product. The A300-600ST Super Transporter can carry a payload of 47 metric tons (103,616 pounds) over a range of 1,500 nautical miles.

Frankenstein of cargo planes
Designing the Beluga wasn't easy. The top section of an Airbus A300-600 was cut off. A wider fuselage section was added, giving the plane its characteristic hump. The cockpit was lowered, allowing cargo to be loaded through the front of the aircraft.

A plane spotter's dream --- Wow. Beluga #3 

The legendary Beluga has brought many a plane spotter to Toulouse. Visitors can often be found sitting on the grass near Toulouse Blagnac Airport waiting for one of the five big beauties to take off or land.
Built for volume, not weight
With a diameter of 7.1 meters, the Beluga has an incredibly large cargo hold. Though its maximum payload of 47 tons is surpassed by only a handful of cargo aircraft, the hold makes it good for oversized but not particularly heavy cargo
The A300-600ST Super Transporter is operated by a crew of three: two pilots and a loadmaster.

Flying white whale - Spot the difference?

A300-600ST Super Transporter
The Beluga's jet speed and efficiency allows "for short transport times to meet strict production schedules," says Airbus. "A semi-automated main deck cargo loading system ensures easy and efficient handling of aircraft components." 

Sum of many parts

Aerial view

A Beluga can carry the wings of an A340 airliner or fuselage for Airbus' wide-body A350. It's not large enough to transport parts for the A380 super jumbo. Those travel by boat, barge and road. 

The Beluga's future
Airbus is looking at a potential replacement for the aging A300-600ST Super Transporter. Though no final decisions have been made, the "Beluga XL" is expected to have a longer range and ability to carry heavier payloads. 


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