20 Years Ago, Airbus Created A Bizarre Plane To Fly Jumbo Jet Parts Around The World

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.

In celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Beluga’s inaugural flight on September 13, 1994 (via Jalopnik), we’re taking a closer look at this unique plane.

Alex Davies wrote the original version of this post.

Here's the Beluga. It's official name is the A300-600ST Super Transporter.

Seen from an airborne A380, it still looks huge.

With its main compartment open, the Beluga looks like a whale swallowing prey, thus the name.

It's built to fit entire aircraft fuselages. On a typical flight, the Beluga carries more than 100,000 pounds of cargo.

It's 56 feet tall.

And the diameter of the fuselage is 24 feet.

With a range of 2,500 nautical miles (2,877 miles), it's not a long distance aircraft.

Here it is getting ready to transport a wing cover for Airbus' first A350 XWB, from Spain to the UK.

While it usually hauls parts of planes, the Beluga is used to transport helicopters, too.

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.

There are only five in service, so numbering them is pretty easy.

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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