A startup wants to build the world’s largest cargo plane big enough to carry wind turbines the size of a football field — take a look

A startup wants to build the world’s largest cargo plane big enough to carry wind turbines the size of a football field — take a look
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The Radia WindRunner in a field surrounded by wind turbines. It is unloading a giant turbine.
Radia wants to ship giant turbines around the world via a behemoth cargo plane called WindRunner.

  • Radia, a Colorado-based startup, wants to build the world’s largest cargo plane.
  • Billed the WindRunner, the plane’s sole purpose is to carry oversized wind turbine blades.
  • The company aims to deliver turbine blades that are difficult to ship by ground.

A Colorado-based startup wants to build the world’s largest cargo plane that’s about the length of a football field.

Its sole purpose: to deliver giant wind turbine blades.

Radia — founded in 2016 by MIT-educated rocket scientist Mark Lundstrom — says it wants to usher in the next phase of wind energy by solving a logistics problem attached to installing larger wind turbines.

Tall turbine towers with bigger blades can harness more energy since they can take better advantage of the faster wind speeds available at high altitudes. But the bigger the blades, the harder they are to transport.

Obstructions such as highway overpasses, power lines, bridges, and tunnels create a logistics nightmare for the delivery of each blade. Radia says today’s roads can “barely support” the blades stretching 230 feet.

Rendering of a truck transporting a large wind turbine blade.
A rendering visualizes one of the obstacles of transporting a large wind turbine blade by ground.

Radia said this won’t get any easier over time as future blades are expected to stretch more than 330 feet and “are not feasible to move on current infrastructure.”

“Once fully constructed, a blade cannot be bent or folded, limiting both the route a truck can take and the radius of turns that it can make, often making elongated routes necessary to avoid urban roadblocks,” according to the US Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

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Radia’s giant cargo plane, called the WindRunner, hopes to fly over those barriers. The company says in press release materials that it plans to build a plane that’s 356 feet long, has a wingspan of 261 feet, and is 79 feet tall.

For comparison, before it was destroyed by Russia in 2022, the behemoth Antonov An-225 — a Soviet-era cargo plane also used to carry over-sized loads such as wind turbine blades — was about 276 feet long, had a wingspan of 290 feet, and was about 60 feet tall.

Antonov AN-225

The An-225’s cargo volume was 46,000 cubic feet, and it could carry about 550,000 lbs of freight.

Radia’s plane has a cargo bay volume of 272,000 cubic feet — 12 times that of a Boeing 747-400F — and a maximum payload weight capacity of 160,000 lbs, according to the company.

This size advantage will allow for the carrying of the more-than-300-foot-long blades — which are loaded through a nose door — and the building of more profitable onshore turbines, Radia said in a press release.

Regarding accessibility, Radia said the WindRunner will operate from regional hubs where the blade turbines are imported or produced, and deliver them directly to wind farms by landing on “a 6,000-foot semi-prepared dirt or gravel landing strip” at the sites.

This would allow WindRunner to land at “almost any commercial airport around the world,” Radia said, noting the aircraft is designed with a range of 1,200 miles at its maximum payload and a cruising altitude of 41,000 feet. It can cruise at Mach 0.6, or about 460 mph.

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WindRunner taxi drawing.
Concept drawing of the WindRunner taxiing.

“The result will be highly efficient wind energy at enormous scale,” Radia CEO Mark Lundstrom said in a press release. “From a business perspective, that means that the onshore wind industry’s internal rate of return will double, attracting much more capital to renewables.”

According to Radia, it is more than halfway through its estimated eight-year process to design, build, and certify the mammoth WindRunner.

A spokesperson for Radia did not return a request for comment from Business Insider.

WindRunner joins the lucrative oversized cargo market

Radia joins the niche network of aerospace companies manufacturing giant planes to carry over-sized cargo, like heavy machinery, military tanks, helicopters, and satellites. Freight like these cannot be easily broken down into smaller pieces for transport on traditional widebody freighters with side doors, for example, rather than nose or rear doors.

While the demand for regular air cargo has cooled off since the pandemic-driven boom, the lucrative outsize market is estimated to grow from a worth of about $14 billion in 2022 to $33 billion by 2030, according to the research and consulting firm, 360iResearch.

These oversize missions typically require a special aircraft design big and flexible enough to accommodate the awkward cargo, with the nose-loading door on Radia’s WindRunner being commonplace on competing freighters.

The heavy-lift An-124 Ruslan, the An-225’s sister jet that is mostly operated by Russian and Ukrainian air carriers, has carried several uniquely shaped objects over the years, like trains and generators. Its payload volume is 41,000 cubic feet.

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The An-124 being loaded, view from front with nose open.
The An-124 being loaded.

Aircraft manufacturing giants Airbus and Boeing both have their respective oversized freighters for transporting massive objects.

Airbus’ Beluga planes, including the original BelugaST “Super Transporter” and the larger BelugaXL variants, have various roles within the European planemaker.

Based on the Airbus A300-600 twin-engine airliner, the BelugaST is primarily used to ship oversized cargo worldwide on behalf of Airbus’ independent cargo airline, Airbus Beluga Transport.

Airbus BelugaST.
Airbus BelugaST.

Meanwhile, the A330-200F-based BelugaXL work-horse mainly transports airplane parts between the manufacturer’s global assembly lines, like wings for its Airbus A350 airliner.

Boeing’s Dreamlifter fleet is made up of modified 747-400 freighters. These provide a hefty cargo hold manufactured for the purpose of carrying the wings and other parts for Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner aircraft as a way to decrease production time.

Like the Beluga, the Dreamlifter has had other jobs, like transporting supplies during the pandemic.

boeing dreamlifter open
The Boeing Dreamlifter used a swinging mechanism for its tail loading.

To accommodate the giant freight, the Dreamlifter uses a unique swinging mechanism on its tail to load, while the Beluga has a nose-loading door similar to the ones on Radia’s WindRunner concept and the An-124 Ruslan.

The Airbus BelugaXL and the Boeing Dreamlifter have payload volumes of 78,000 and 65,000 cubic feet, respectively.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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