Thar she blows - Airbus adds a Beluga smile to its latest outlandish transporter plane...
I think he's trying to tell us something - the new Beluga XL looks suitably flipperesque. Photo Airbus
Airbus manufactures different parts of its passenger planes across various European countries, and it uses specially designed aircraft to transport large sections of its aircraft from their site of manufacture, to the assembly plants in Toulouse, Hamburg, and Seville.
The problem was solved in 1996 with the use of the Beluga-ST - a strange looking aircraft that was based on the company's A300-600. By grafting an extra large diametre section of fuselage onto the existing base, the bulbous-looking machine was able to carry wings, tailfins, and other fuselage sections.
Now comes the latest version, the Airbus Beluga 'XL', which is based on the skeleton of the company's more modern and advanced A330-200 aircraft, which is six metres longer than the previous Beluga, a metre wider, and can carry six tonnes more weight. And this time Airbus has gone the whole hog and has added Beluga Whale-like eyes and a smile to the front.
Five of these Cetacean themed aircraft are due to enter service and replace the older models. Incidentally, the light-hearted paintjob came about in part by asking the workforce their opinion as to the new Beluga XL branding. The good people working for Airbus opted for anthropomophisation on a grand scale - such a shame Jonny Morris is no longer with us.
The machine is bound to bring a smile to the bean counters too, as the BelugaXL can carry two wings for the new wide body A350 XWB instead of a single one in the previous BelugaST model.
The BelugaXL has cleared the paintshop and has made its debut flight. Photo Airbus
One more thing....Boeing has also addressed the problem of transporting large fuselage and wing sections from plant to plant, and currently uses a modified 747 Jumbo Jet that it calls the Dreamlifter. It looks a lot less cuddly than the Beluga, which might help to explain why Boeing have the below publicity shot on its website.
Nope, I've no idea why there are kiddies involved in this Dreamlifter shot either. Photo Boeing
The evolution of such outsized cargo carriers can be traced from the Aero Spacelines Pregnant Guppy, which first flew in 1962, and then the Aero Spacelines Super Guppy that entered service in 1965. Both aircraft were based on an extensively modified Boeing Stratocruiser that was used for transporting component's in NASA's Apollo programme.
For obvious reasons it was likely irksome for Airbus to have to use transporters based on its arch rival Boeing's Stratocruiser, and so the Beluga cargo aircraft was based on modifications to the Airbus A300-600. Five were made and have been flying Airbus parts between assembly plants since 1995.
The first Airbus Beluga-ST being loaded with part of an aircraft fuselage. Photo Eric Baur/Flickr
And another thing....as ever, the Soviet response to the problem was completely different. It came in the form of the Myasishchev VM-T. It was based on the Myasishchev Molot bomber and was intended to carry some of the gigantic components of the Buran space vehicles - itself Russia's copy of NASA's Space Shuttle.
The tail plane disappeared in favour of two end-plate tail fins to allow for the plane to carry the most bulky of outsized cargo, which was then bolted to the top of the plane's fuselage. The outlandishly outsized rocket strapped to the top of the aircraft was many times larger than the carrying aircraft's cargo, lending it a dung beatle-style bizarreness.
The Myasishchev VM-T landing at the Baikonur Cosmodrome with its ludicrously large payload