The Airbus Beluga

Meet the whale of a plane designed to ferry oversized aircraft parts around the world

As the aerospace industry boomed in the early 1990s, the infrastructure required to transport sections of an airplane became strained. The parts manufactured around Europe needed to come to one place for the final assembly. With the wings coming in from the UK, the tail and doors coming from Spain, the fuselage from Germany and the nose from France, this was no easy feat. As parts got bigger and the demand for planes increased, the roads and railways quickly found themselves unable to keep up.

It soon became apparent that engineers needed to find a better solution, and they looked to the sky for answers. It came in the form of a modified Airbus, one that was bigger and better than anything that had come before it. Designed to carry parts of planes that hadn’t even been invented yet, the Airbus A300-600ST was a perfect solution for the challenge. The modified Super Transporter made its first flight in September 1994 and was nicknamed ‘The Beluga’ in reference to the whale it resembles.

The unusual horseshoe shape of the cavernous 7.3-metre-diameter fuselage resulted in the relocation of the pressurised cockpit to below the cargo-floor level. The revolutionary design provided access to the cargo bay from the front without the need to disconnect the electrical, hydraulic and flight controls. This, and the utilisation of a roll-on roll- off loading system, halved loading times compared to the Beluga’s predecessor, the Super Guppy. Five Airbus Belugas are in service today, and another five – even larger – Beluga XL craft are currently in production. The first of these new-and-improved sky whales will be ready to take to the skies in 2019.

This article was originally published in How It Works issue 112, written by Charlie Evans 

For more science and technology articles, pick up the latest copy of How It Works from all good retailers or from our website now. If you have a tablet or smartphone, you can also download the digital version onto your iOS or Android device. To make sure you never miss an issue of How It Works magazine, subscribe today!