European planemaker Airbus is based in Toulouse, France, but produces planes in the United Kingdom, Spain, Germany, and China.
To transport the wings and fuselages of half-built planes from one factory to another, it needed a plane bigger than any standard cargo jet.
So it built the Beluga.
Developed in the 1990s and based on the A300 (the wings, engines, landing gear, and lower portion of the fuselage are the same), the Beluga has one of the biggest cargo holds in the world.
It’s the best way to get the body of a jumbo jet, a fleet of helicopters, or even a priceless painting across the planet. It’s also one of the strangest looking planes in the skies today.
Recently, Airbus celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Beluga’s inaugural flight on September 13, 1994.
After of two decades of service, Airbus has decided the Beluga’s service life is coming to an end. The aeroplane maker announced this week that is plans to design and build a new generation of Beluga transports based on its A330 twin-engined jet.
As the current Beluga’s nears retirement, lets take a moment to appreciate the awesomeness of this truly capable, yet very odd-looking piece of aviation engineering.
Alex Davies wrote the original version of this post.
Amazingly, the current Beluga wasn't the first oddly-shaped aircraft Airbus used as transport planes.
It's built to fit entire aircraft fuselages. On a typical flight, the Beluga carries more than 100,000 pounds of cargo.
Here it is getting ready to transport a wing cover for Airbus' first A350 XWB, from Spain to the UK.
The Beluga is available for charter. In 1999, it was used to fly Eugene Delacroix's huge painting, 'Liberty Leading the People,' from Paris to Tokyo for an exhibition.
At the 2012 ILA Berlin Airshow in September, one was used to attract potential employees. The side of the plane reads, 'Join us.'
Airbus also uses trucks and river barges to move aircraft sections around, but they are not as impressive as the Beluga.
Don't believe it? Watch it in action. The Beluga lands at the beginning of the video, and takes off at the 6:30 mark.
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