The Airbus Beluga is a special aircraft designed to transport oversized cargo, such as aircraft components, for the aerospace industry. It is based on the Airbus A300-600 airliner, but with a much larger fuselage and a modified tail section. The name Beluga comes from the resemblance of the aircraft to the white whale of the same name.
The Beluga can carry up to 47 tonnes of cargo, with a maximum length of 37.7 meters and a maximum width of 7.1 meters. The cargo bay is 7.4 meters high and has a volume of 1,400 cubic meters. The Beluga can load and unload cargo through a large front door that hinges upwards. The cockpit is lowered to allow the cargo door to open.
The Beluga was developed in the early 1990s to replace the Super Guppy, another oversized cargo aircraft used by Airbus. The first Beluga flew in 1994 and entered service in 1995. Five Belugas were built and are operated by Airbus Transport International, a subsidiary of Airbus. The Belugas fly between various Airbus factories and suppliers across Europe, as well as to other destinations around the world.
The Beluga has been involved in several notable missions, such as transporting space station modules, helicopters, artworks, and even live animals. The Beluga has also been used for humanitarian aid, such as delivering relief supplies after natural disasters.
In 2014, Airbus announced the development of a new version of the Beluga, called the BelugaXL, based on the Airbus A330-200F. The BelugaXL has a larger cargo capacity and can carry two A350 wings instead of one. The first BelugaXL flew in 2018 and received its type certification in 2019. Six BelugaXLs are planned to be built and will gradually replace the original Belugas by 2023.
The Airbus Beluga is a remarkable aircraft that showcases the engineering and innovation of Airbus. It is an essential tool for the production and assembly of Airbus aircraft, as well as for other special transport needs.