The Airbus A300-600ST Super Transporter, often known by its nickname Beluga ("White Whale"), is the world's biggest transport plane in terms of volume. It is also a remarkably bizarre-looking, if not outright butt-ugly, plane that looks like an unwieldy cross between a jet and a blimp. The bottom half looks almost normal, but the megalocephalic cockpit balloons into a gigantic blob that indeed resembles a Beluga whale:

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History

However, the shape of the airplane is not an original invention; that credit goes to NASA's series of Super Guppy planes, converted from Boeing B-377 Stratocruisers for use in shuttling rocket parts for the Apollo program.

Airbus, whose factories are scattered across Europe, also used Super Guppies for transporting plane parts at first, but as Airbus' planes grew larger and the Guppies grew older it was time to build a replacement. Airbus engineers selected the Airbus A300-600R widebody as the base of the new plane and started development in 1991. The maiden flight was on September 13, 1994, and the first plane entered service in January 1996.

To date, five of the aircraft have been built, all for Airbus itself. While their primary use remains shuttling around plane parts (the Beluga can, for example, carry two A330/340 wings), the aircraft can also be rented for special operations and have been used for e.g. carrying parts of the International Space Station. However, Airbus' marketing efforts have not been particularly successful and the extra-largo cargo market seems to be pretty much cornered by the Antonov An-124 Ruslan and its big brother.

Statistics

The Beluga has an internal volume of 1400 square meters, some 30% larger than the Super Guppy, which is accessed through a front loading hatch 17,2 meters high (the height of a five-story building). The maximum payload is 47 tons, nearly twice the Super Guppy's 24,5.

Length: 56,2 m
Height: 17,2 m
Wingspan: 44,8 m
Wing area: 260 sq.m
Cargo payload: 47 tons
Total payload: 155 tons
Maximum velocity: 780 km/h
Maximum range: 2400 km (full payload) to 4000 km (30t payload)
Powerplants: 2 General Electric CF6-80C2A8

Think this is big? Take a look at the Antonov An-225 Mriya, which could strap two Belugas to its back and fly 5000 km without breaking a sweat.

References

www.airliners.net
FLUG REVUE 3/1998