Flickr/BriYYZBusiness is booming at Airbus: The European planemaker just closed a huge deal to sell $24 billion worth of A320 jets to Indonesia’s Lion Air, and it’s busy building the A350 XWB, the plane it created to compete with Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner.
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.
From the ground, it seems almost like a normal jumbo jet — but not quite. Its wingspan measures more than 147 feet.
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.
Airbus also uses trucks and river barges to move aircraft sections around, but they are not as impressive as the Beluga.
Seeing it on the ground, it's hard to believe the huge plane can get airborne. But it's actually made with a maximum takeoff weight of 341,713 pounds.
And as residents of Toulouse, where Airbus is headquartered, can attest, it can often be seen flying overhead.
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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