Airbus flew its first ‘Beluga Transport’ mission to the US, using a freighter designed to carry oversized cargo like engines, tanks, and even other aircraft. Take a look.

Airbus flew its first ‘Beluga Transport’ mission to the US, using a freighter designed to carry oversized cargo like engines, tanks, and even other aircraft. Take a look.
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The BelugaST with an A320 fuselage inside.
Airbus recently secured an operator’s certificate to fly in the US.

  • Airbus’ independent cargo airline flew its first BelugaST mission to the US in March.
  • The nose-loading freighter shipped an Airbus-made satellite from Toulouse, France, to Florida.
  • The mammoth BelugaST is deployed to transport oversized items like satellites and helicopters.

In 1994, Airbus built a mammoth aircraft called the Beluga “Super Transporter” to support the assembly of its line of commercial airplanes.

The beluga-shaped aircraft carried parts for the manufacturer’s family of A320, A330, and A350 planes on behalf of its in-house subsidiary known as Airbus Transport International.

Aside from its main duties with ATI, the BelugaST also operated a handful of one-off cargo shipments for various companies.

This history prompted the founding of Airbus Beluga Transport, or AiBT, in 2022 as a new home for the BelugaST fleet as the planemaker replaced the original jet with the next-generation BelugaXL.

The startup received its own independent air operating certificate from French authorities in January and officially launched its first mission to the US as an independent cargo airline in March.

Take a look at the old-generation BelugaST plane and how Airbus is putting its five-strong fleet’s outsize cargo-carrying capabilities to use.

Airbus Beluga Transport officially received its air operating certificate in January.
Airbus BelugaST.
The Beluga resembles the white cold-water whale of the same name.

This allows Airbus to use the BelugaST for commercial cargo flights, meaning it no longer has to use ATI flight and ground crews for the operation — the reality before AiBT became an independent operator.

Flying under ATI, the BelugaST’s flew six missions in its first year, per Airbus.

In mid-March, a BelugaST flew its first mission as an independent cargo carrier when it shipped an Airbus-made satellite from France to Florida.
The satellite being loaded into the open nose of the Beluga freighter.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is responsible for the satellite’s transport to space.

The aircraft made three stops along the 5,200-mile journey: in Portugal, eastern Canada, and New Hampshire, before finally landing in Orlando.
The BelugaST taking off from Toulouse.
The BelugaST taking off from Toulouse.

According to FlightAware data, the aircraft flew from Toulouse to Terceira Lajes Airport on an island in the Azores region of Portugal before flying across the Atlantic to St. John’s International Airport in Newfoundland, Canada.

The BelugaST, registered F-GSTF, then flew to Portsmouth International Airport in New Hampshire and onward to its final destination of Orlando Sanford International Airport in central Florida. The entire journey was done over two days, from March 10 to March 11.

Only a handful of pilots are qualified to fly these awkward jets, so Airbus contracted 12 aviators from ATI to fly the BelugaSTs while it trains more.
Pilots in uniform walking towards the camera in front of a BelugaST.
BelugaST pilots were plucked from Airbus International Transport.

According to the planemaker, there are no “ready qualified” pilots available outside the company because the BelugaST is an exclusively Airbus product.

Therefore, it has to bring in external pilots and train them — but that can take time. In the interim, Airbus said it has hired 12 pilots from its BelugaXL fleet to fly the BelugaSTs for up to three years before returning to ATI.

AiBT is also continuing to look externally and has already brought on nine BelugaST pilots, with a goal to have the needed 36 by 2026.

AiBT plans to eventually operate all five BelugaST aircraft, with Planespotters data showing ATI has so far transferred four jets.
The BelugaST being fueled with SAF.
The BelugaST can use sustainable aviation fuel.

According data from Planespotters, three out of the five planes are in service with AiBT, and a fourth is stored.

Meanwhile, ATI still has one BelugaST alongside its fleet of six BelugaXLs. The fifth BelugaST has been stored since April 2021, per Planespotters.

While AiBT is a startup, the BelugaST already has experience in this sector as it completed a few contracts carrying large machinery during its days with ATI.
Loading a helicopter into a BelugaST.
Loading a helicopter into a BelugaST.

According to Airbus, its cargo option is favorable for the BelugaST’s fuel efficiency and versatility.
Loading the BelugaST.
Loading the BelugaST in December 2021 for its mission to Kobe, Japan.

“We fly your outsized cargo in the shortest time possible while limiting risks of delays and damage and in a cost-efficient way,” the planemaker touts on its website.

The company noted its experience flying oversized freight and the various sectors it can cover, like aerospace, gas, and military.

The plane may also fill the gap left behind after Russia destroyed the mammoth Antonov An-225 Mriya.
The damaged Antonov An-225 Mriya on April 2, 2022.
The damaged Antonov An-225 Mriya on April 2, 2022, months after Russia invaded Ukraine.

The Ukrainian-made An-225 used to be the world’s largest cargo plane.

Its sister aircraft, the An-124, could pick up the slack, but the jets are mostly owned by Russian carrier Volga-Dnepr, and the nation’s airspace closures have limited its use, according to Aviacionline.

Equipped with two General Electric engines, the BelugaST can fly 2,500 nautical miles with up to 100,000 pounds of cargo.
A BelugaST loading an A380 tailcone.
A BelugaST loading an A380 tailcone in 2004.

Initially, the aircraft would carry wings, tails, and fuselage parts to its various narrowbody and widebody assembly lines in Toulouse, France, and Hamburg, Germany.

It has a cargo volume of 53,000 cubic feet.

The jet stretches 147 feet wingtip to wingtip, stands 56 feet high, and boasts a 24-foot diameter fuselage.
Airbus BelugaST.
Airbus BelugaST.

The aircraft is based on the A300-600, which was Airbus’ first production plane and the first twin-engine, dual-aisle airliner. The BelugaST is also referred to as the A300-600ST.

Its world-leading interior cross-section allows the BelugaST to carry outsized freight like full helicopters, satellites, and tanks.
The BelugaST nose loading on display at the 1998 Farnborough Airshow in England.
The BelugaST nose loading on display at the 1998 Farnborough Airshow in England.

The plane’s giant payload is also helpful for quickly replacing engines on grounded aircraft.
Airbus BelugaST.
Airbus BelugaST freight loading.

Sabo explained the BelugaST would negate the need to disassemble, re-assemble, and re-test the engine — the latter two tasks Sabo said take “around two days” to complete.

Since its transition to contract flying, Airbus has developed more efficient machinery for loading and unloading the BelugaST.
A BelugaST delivering an Airbus satellite to a customer in Florida in October 2022, marking its first trip to the US since 2009.
A BelugaST delivering an Airbus satellite to a customer in Florida in October 2022, marking its first trip to the US since 2009.

Airbus describes the aircraft’s loading, unloading, and delivery design “to be fast, safe, flexible, and reliable.”

To improve its turn-around time, the first enhancement is an automated on-board cargo loader.
Airbus OBCL test.
Airbus BelugaST OBCL test.

The OBCL, which can be stored inside the BelugaST and hold up to 20 tons of payload, is favorable “where a loading/unloading platform is not available at the origin or destination airport,” according to Airbus.

Complementing the OBCL is the BelugaST’s redesigned outbound platform that can handle “the heaviest and longest cargo.”
Airbus BelugaST.
Airbus BelugaST outound platform.

Airbus said the transportable machine will be “strategically pre-positioned” at airports across the globe and be “easily transportable prior to a mission at short notice.”

Meanwhile, a multi-purpose platform has been deployed to lift cargo five feet above the ground to load directly into the BelugaST’s nose.
Airbus BelugaST.
Airbus BelugaST MMP.

Nose-door loading is easier for oversized cargo than smaller side doors on traditional widebody freighters like the Airbus A330-200F or the Boeing 767F.

The BelugaST is not the only giant oversized freighter on the market. The An-225’s sister jet, the An-124, is now the world’s largest.
The An-124 being loaded, view from front with nose open.
The An-124 being loaded.

The An-124 has a similar nose-loading door that is also found on aircraft like the Boeing 747 freighter and the C-5 Galaxy military transporter.

Meanwhile, Colorado startup planemaker Radia wants revealed plans to build the world’s next largest cargo aircraft.
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.

The WindRunner is expected to have 12 times the payload volume as a Boeing 747-400F freighter and is being created to carry giant wind turbine blades.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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