Big bellied birds

I’ve long been fascinated by aircraft that carry other aircraft – or, more specifically, big parts of other aircraft – inside themselves.

Airbus operates several Beluga variants of its first design, the A300.  They’ll soon be replaced by the Beluga XL, a variant of the more modern A330.  Here’s a Beluga loading part of the fuselage of a smaller Airbus, then taking off to ferry it to another factory, where it’ll be assembled with other modules into a complete aircraft.

Boeing’s version is the DreamLifter, a heavily modified 747-400.  A fleet of them carry aircraft modules from Japan and other nations to Seattle, where they’re assembled into complete planes.  Here’s a comparison between Airbus’ and Boeing’s superlifters.

And here’s a series of three DreamLifter takeoffs from Everett, Washington.

Here’s what it’s like to unload a DreamLifter.

And finally, here’s a short history of “supersized” aircraft, of which the DreamLifter and Beluga are the most recent examples.

Interesting planes, and fun to watch.



  1. At somewhere around $25k per operating flight hour for a 747-400, you'd think it wouldn't take too much to make moving the plant stateside to make financial sense.

  2. I used to love watching the Guppy and SuperGuppy fly out of California in the late 60's. Really interesting variants of the B-29/C-97 series of planes.

    As to what Bruce said, until recently, tax and environmental reasons have made it more economical to build components overseas and ship them here for final assembly. Plus, it is also a way to build a nation's aerospace industry (okay, maybe not the best way to do it if you want to keep your stateside business.)

    Hopefully the new tax and environmental laws will encourage more stateside manufacturing, though with Washington's (State, not district) weird lefty takeover, doubt it will be anywhere near Seattle. Maybe Alabama or some other southeastern state.

  3. Andrew, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries got the Dreamliner wings contract because they had the only autoclaves big enough to handle the wings. And even though the new 777 building in Everett has bigger autoclaves, they are dedicated to the 777X series. The 787's teething problems are part of the problem you get outsourcing too aggressively. I could tell horror stories about Italian workmanship.

    The Dreamlifter IS a sight to see. Every couple of weeks the schedule coincides with my departure from work and I get to see one take off.

    BTW, that cargo loader in the Dreamlifter video is the largest vehicle of its type as well. It is a total beast!

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