Airbus Beluga

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A300-600ST Beluga
DSC 5493-F-GSTC (10299096584).jpg
Beluga in the Airbus livery
Role Outsize cargo freight aircraft
Manufacturer Airbus
First flight 13 September 1994
Introduction September 1995
Status In service
Primary user Airbus Transport International
Produced 1992–c.1999
Number built 5
Unit cost
$285 million[1]
Developed from Airbus A300-600

The Airbus A300-600ST (Super Transporter) or Beluga, is a version of the standard A300-600 wide-body airliner modified to carry aircraft parts and oversized cargo. It was officially called the Super Transporter at first, but the name Beluga became popular and has now been officially adopted.


Several major aircraft manufacturers are multinational, and it is not unusual for them to have plants in widely separated locations. Airbus is unique in that it is a consortium formed by the major British, French, German, and Spanish aerospace companies. The geographic location of Airbus manufacturing is not only influenced by cost and convenience; it is also a matter of aviation history and national interest. Each of the Airbus partners makes an entire aircraft section, which must be transported to a central location for final assembly. The details vary from one model to another, but the general arrangement is for the wings and landing gear to be made in the UK, the tail and doors in Spain, the fuselage in Germany, and the nose and centre-section in France, with final assembly in either Toulouse, France; Hamburg, Germany; or Seville, Spain.


Super Guppy F-BPPA


When Airbus started in 1970, the first few components were delivered by road, but growing production soon necessitated a switch to air transport. From 1972 onwards, a fleet of four highly modified "Super Guppies" took over. These were former Boeing Stratocruisers from the 1940s, converted with custom fuselages and turbine engines to carry large volume loads for the 1960s NASA space program, leading to the jest that "every Airbus is delivered on the wings of a Boeing". As time went by, the Super Guppies grew increasingly unsatisfactory for Airbus's ferrying needs: their age meant that operating expenses were high and ever-increasing, and growing Airbus production required greater capacity.

Design phase[edit]

In 1991 Aérospatiale and DASA, two of the major Airbus partners, formed a company to develop a replacement. The starting point was the design for the wide-body twin-engined Airbus A300: the wings, engines, landing gear, and the lower part of the fuselage are the same as the A300 while the upper part of the fuselage is an enormous horseshoe-shaped structure 7.7 m (25 ft) in diameter. To provide access to the cargo area from the front without having to disconnect all electrical, hydraulic and flight control connections (not to mention the lengthy recalibrations before each flight the reconnection entailed), the standard A300 cockpit was moved down below the cargo floor level, and the tail structure was enlarged and strengthened to maintain directional stability.

Production and entry into service[edit]

Airbus Beluga in the old Airbus livery showing other planes for size comparison
Airbus Beluga landing
Unloading Airbus fuselage nose components at Hamburg Finkenwerder, 2013

Construction began in September 1992, and the first flight took place in September 1994. After 335 hours of test flying, restricted certification was awarded in October 1995,[2] and the A300-600ST "Beluga" entered service. Four more Belugas were constructed, at a rate of roughly one per year, and all five remain in regular service. Their primary task is to carry Airbus components ready for final assembly across Europe between Toulouse, Hamburg and nine other sites, and they do so 60 times per week.[3]

They are also available for charter work, and have been used to carry a variety of special loads, including space station components, large, very delicate artwork, industrial machinery, and entire helicopters. One Beluga was chartered to carry two complete NHI NH90s and a Eurocopter Tiger from Europe to Australia and back. The A300-600ST's freight compartment is 7.4 m (24 ft) in diameter and 37.7 m (124 ft) long; maximum payload is 47 tonnes. At 155 tonnes its maximum take-off weight is comparable to a normal A300, showing that the Beluga was intended for large but relatively light cargo.

The main deck cargo volume of the Beluga is greater than that of the C-5 Galaxy or the Antonov An-124 but still smaller than Antonov An-225. However, it is restricted by cargo weight capacity of 47 tonnes, compared to 122.5 tonnes for the C-5 Galaxy and 150 tonnes for the An-124.[4] Despite this width, the Beluga cannot carry most fuselage parts of the A380, which are normally transported by ship and road. The Beluga has been used to transport a few A380 components.[5]

In 1999, a Beluga carried a large painting Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix[6] which had hung in the Louvre in Paris since 1874. It was flown from Paris to Tokyo via Bahrain and Calcutta in about 20 hours.[7] The large canvas, measuring 2.99 metres (9.81 ft) high by 3.62 metres (11.88 ft) long,[7] was too large to fit into a Boeing 747. It was transported in the vertical position inside a special pressurized container provided with isothermal protection and an anti-vibration device.[7]

Around 2012 the fleet spends about 5,000 flight hours per year, and Airbus expects to fly twice that number by 2017.[8]

In November 2014, Airbus announced that it is designing a larger replacement type, will be based on the Airbus A330-200, five of which will start operating from 2019, replacing the last old Beluga in 2025.[9][10][11][12] Airbus previously considered the A330-300 and A340-500, but each require too much of the limited 1,663 m (5,460 ft) runway 04 at Hawarden Airport near Broughton in Wales.[13] On 29 May 2015 Airbus confirmed that the new aircraft will have a 1 m (3.3 ft) wider cross-section than its predecessor and provide a 12% increase in payload.

The Beluga XL is intended primarily for A350 work, and is being designed with capacity to ship two A350 wings simultaneously. Five aircraft will be progressively assembled; the first two are considered essential to ramping-up production of the A350, with the remaining three being introduced as the current Beluga fleet retires.[14]

Specifications (A300-600ST)[edit]

Layout of A300-600ST Beluga
Loading of NH90 helicopters onto an Airbus Beluga at Canberra Airport, 2003
External images
Airbus Beluga diagrams
SATIC Airbus Beluga cutaway from

Data from Airbus [15]

General characteristics


  • Maximum speed: Mach 0.82 (1,004.54 km/h)
  • Range: 2,779 km (1,501 nmi) with 40 ton payload
    4,632 km (2,501 nmi) with 26 ton payload

See also[edit]

Related development
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era


  1. ^ Tarantola, Andrew. "This Plane That Carries Planes Costs a Quarter of a Billion Dollars" Gizmodo, 19 November 2014. Accessed: 19 November 2014.
  2. ^ EASA, Type-certificate data sheet, Airbus A300-600ST
  3. ^ Morrison, Murdo (12 September 2014), "Quirky Dozen: The 12 strangest-looking aircraft ever built", Flightglobal (Reed Business Information), archived from the original on 14 September 2014, retrieved 15 September 2014 
  4. ^ "Aircraft families/Beluga". Airbus. 
  5. ^ "Airbus delivers first A380 fuselage section from Spain". Airbus. 6 November 2003. 
  6. ^ "Airbus Industrie carries Delacroix painting to Japan.". 18 February 1999. Retrieved 21 October 2009. [dead link]
  7. ^ a b c "Airbus A300-600ST Super Transporter". AllAboutGuppys. Retrieved 21 October 2009. 
  8. ^ Ros, Miquel. "Airbus' Beluga: The world's strangest-looking airplane turns 20" CNN, 17 September 2014. Accessed: 26 September 2014.
  9. ^ Gubisch, Michael (17 November 2014). "Airbus Airbus starts A330 Beluga development". Flightglobal. Reed Business Information. 
  10. ^ Thisdell, Dan (18 November 2014). "Airbus logistics: from tiny fish to small whale – and now a bigger Beluga". Flightglobal. Reed Business Information. Archived from the original on 19 November 2014. 
  11. ^ Eiselin, Stefan. "Das bietet der neue Beluga" aeroTelegraph, 19 November 2014. Accessed: 19 November 2014.
  12. ^ Airbus to expand oversize air transport capability Airbus' PR, 17 November 2014.
  13. ^ Kaminski-Morrow, David (12 February 2013). "Airbus leans towards A330-200 to replace Beluga fleet". Flightglobal. Reed Business Information. Archived from the original on 14 October 2014. 
  14. ^ "A330-based Beluga to have larger cross-section". Flightglobal. 29 May 2015. 
  15. ^ "Airbus Aircraft Family: Beluga – Dimensions & key data". Airbus. 
  16. ^ "Airbus Aircraft Family: Beluga – Flight Deck". Airbus. 
  17. ^
  18. ^ "Airbus Aircraft Family: Beluga – Freight". Airbus. 

External links[edit]