The FAT Airbus Beluga

The Airbus Beluga is a cargo aircraft built by Airbus. The Beluga can, thanks to its 37.7 m long and 7.1 m diameter hold, carry a load of more than 40 tonnes over a maximum distance of 2,779 km.

Angel Reyes
May 3, 2022
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The Airbus Beluga is a cargo aircraft built by Airbus. The Beluga can, thanks to its 37.7 m long and 7.1 m diameter hold, carry a load of more than 40 tonnes over a maximum distance of 2,779 km.

Five examples of the Beluga have been built and are used by its sole customer, Airbus Transport International, to transport sections of Airbus aircraft between the various production sites in Europe. The A300-600ST can also be used to transport exceptional loads such as satellites, spacecraft, military vehicles or can be used for humanitarian operations.

This device owes its Beluga name to its striking resemblance to the silhouette of the cetacean of the same name.

Design and development

Due to its history and structure, Airbus has different production centers throughout Europe , each of which produces a part of the aircraft, which has to be moved to be joined to other parts in the final assembly line. Although the workload of each center varies according to the model, they are usually distributed in the following way: the wings are manufactured in Great Britain , the horizontal stabilizer and doors in Spain , the fuselage in Germany and the central section and the front in France , which are united in Toulouse , Hamburg , Filton or Seville according to the model and version.

At first the components were carried by land or by ship, but the increase in production made it necessary to transport them by air. For this, Airbus bought in 1972 four Super Guppy (conversions of the Boeing 377 ), which had belonged to NASA's Apollo space program . But the Super Guppy did not give the expected result, due to its age they had a high maintenance cost, besides its capacity was not enough to satisfy the production speed of the Airbus factories. To solve these problems the Beluga was created.

There are other freighters that can carry much heavier loads (such as the Antonov An-124 , the Boeing B747 or the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy ), but none can carry loads as large and bulky as the Beluga. The cargo compartment of the Beluga measures 7.4 m in diameter and 37.7 m in length. In total, it carries up to 47 tons of cargo.

In 1992 Aérospatiale and DASA , created a company to develop the substitute of the Super Guppies. From twin engine widebody Airbus A300 developed Beluga. It kept the wings, engines, landing gear and the lower part of the fuselage. The upper part of the fuselage was replaced by a horseshoe-shaped structure 7.4 m in diameter. To allow access to the cargo cabin, the control cabin was brought to a level below the load level, and a 17 m high door was incorporated into the front of the aircraft. In addition, the structure of the tail was modified, which was lengthened and enlarged, adding two additional vertical rudders, to improve the maneuverability and stability of the aircraft.

The assembly of the airplane began in September of 1992 , being the inaugural flight in September of 1994 . The model obtained the airworthiness certification one year later. In total, five Belugas were built. Its main task is to take Airbus aircraft components from the production sites to the final assembly lines, but they are also available for special cargo operations, such as the transfer of components from the International Space Station , large works of art , industrial machinery, or whole helicopters.

Its name is due to the fact that the particular shape of its chassis resembles that of a beluga , a cetacean that inhabits the seas in arctic areas.

In November 2014, Airbus announced a total of 5 larger aircraft to replace the current Belugas fleet, which will cease operations in 2025. This aircraft is based on the Airbus A330-200 and will start operating in 2019. The European company It has previously considered the A330-300 and the A340-500 to replace the Beluga but these were later discarded.

Technical characteristics

Some other devices can carry heavier loads, but none have a comparable internal volume. The main cargo bay of the A300-600ST measures 7.4 meters in diameter and 37.7 meters in length. It enables him to transport parts with very large dimensions, such as a pair of wings of A330 , two pairs of wings of A320 , a fuselage A320 +, a wing of A350 or a fuselage of Airbus A330 .

By its "inflated" shape and its main role (transport of aircraft elements), the Beluga is comparable to the Boeing 747-400 Large Cargo Freighter .

The Beluga can carry some parts of the A380 , but can not transport the main parts (fuselage, wings), too bulky which are therefore transported by trucks and boats, which has required many road and river works. Faced with the ramp-up of production of the Airbus A350 XWB , to complete the fleet of "Beluga", a Beluga of new generation ( Beluga XL ) more bulky with a bay of 8 m in diameter instead of 7.1 m , and with a greater radius of action, based on an Airbus A330-200F , is studied, then the program is officially launched in November 2014 for delivery scheduled for 2019, with a first-generation withdrawal in 2025.


ATI (Airbus Transport International), a full-fledged airline and subsidiary of Airbus SAS, was created to manage the Beluga fleet. Its AITA code is 4Y and its ICAO code is BGA.

The primary task of ATI is to transport the Airbus components across Europe for final assembly in Toulouse or Hamburg .

Beluga have been used to transport various special loads, including space station components , large fragile works of art, industrial machinery, and whole helicopters.

The maximum load is 47 tons. The Beluga is far from being the largest aircraft in the world in terms of payload: planes surpass it in this regard, the Airbus A380 , Boeing 747 and Antonov An-225 , and even the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy and the Antonov An-124 "Ruslan" that exceed 100 tons capacity.

The Beluga is a twin-engine cargo ship. With only two engines and its heavy load, it can fly at 700 km / h over 5,000 km .

Angel Reyes

Angel Reyes is a photojournalist and columnist covering culture and travel trends for OMG BYE. He studied Film from Full Sail University. Angel also produces interactive projects and feature video.