June 27, 2005 The Airbus Beluga flew into Paris earlier this month for the Paris airshow, offering one of the most remarkable sites in aviation. The Beluga (also known as the A300-600ST Super Transporter) has the most voluminous cargo hold of any civil or military aircraft flying today, offers a unique way to transport oversized air cargo. Developed to carry complete sections of Airbus aircraft from different production sites around Europe to the final assembly lines in Toulouse or Hamburg, its main-deck cargo volume is greater than the Lockheed C5 Galaxy, the Antonov An-124 or the Boeing C-17 airlifter.

There may be aircraft that can carry heavier loads (the aforementioned An-124, the Boeing 747 and the C-5), but none have a comparable internal volume.

Beginning life as a wide-body twin-engined Airbus A300 airliner, the majority of the aircraft remains as standard (wings, engines, landing gear, lower fuselage), though the upper fuselage has been replaced by the bulbous 7.4 metre diameter structure.

To provide access to the cargo area, the standard A300 cockpit was moved down below the cargo floor level and a massive 17 metre cargo door fitted. Finally, the tail structure was enlarged and strengthened to maintain directional stability.

The A300-600ST was designed specifically to replace the Super Guppy (a converted Boeing 377 Stratocruiser) in Airbus' unique, highly automated and integrated assembly process. In dedicated service since January 1996, the Beluga ferries complete sections of Airbus aircraft, produced at different sites around Europe, to the final assembly lines in Toulouse or Hamburg. At current levels of production, the fleet is performing more than 40 ferry flights a week, between Airbus sites in Nantes, Saint Nazaire, Bremen, Getafe, Broughton, as well as Alenia in Naples, and the final assembly lines in Toulouse and Hamburg.

The Beluga can carry a maximum payload of 47 metric tonnes in its 1,400 m3 freight compartment non-stop over a range of 1,660km/900 nm. It can also fly transatlantic operations with a hefty payload of 31 metric tonnes.

Through its subsidiary Airbus Transport International (ATI) Airbus currently operates a fleet of five A300-600ST aircraft on a charter basis to third parties. Thanks to their unmatched dimensions the Belugas have already served the space, military and other outsized cargo markets, transporting an eclectic variety of loads, ranging from space station elements or helicopters to priceless works of art which have included the delivery of a very large and celebrated painting from Paris to Tokyo and back. Other missions flown have involved transporting the French Military satellite Helios 2, last September, from Toulouse to French Guyana and the conveyance of two SAR SeaKing helicopters from Europe to East Africa.

In February 2003, the Beluga completed the longest charter flight ever - 25 hours of flying plus stops - from Marseille, France, to the Avalon Airshow, near Melbourne, Australia, when it transported three helicopters for Eurocopter while in 2004 it made three trips to Baïkonur, the historical Russian launch site, to deliver three Astrium satellites.

The five-aircraft fleet of Belugas is operated by Airbus Transport International (ATI). In addition to serving the internal transportation needs of Airbus, ATI offers Belugas on a charter basis to third parties. ATI ensures a high level of customer satisfaction with loading, unloading, and delivery designed to be fast, safe, flexible, and reliable – as demonstrated by years of successful operations throughout the world.

A wide range of commercial charter missions have been performed by Airbus Transport International, from airlifting a 17.6-meter-long x 6.5-meter-diameter chemical tank weighing 39 metric tons to transporting a large French masterpiece painting.

View gallery - 10 images