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Airbus Beluga XL (wikipedia.org)
99 points by Tomte on Dec 16, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 64 comments

We can see one landing from the office I work in once in a while, it really looks like a flying whale over Hamburg.

Always loved to watch it flying over the city. My old office in emporio offered some of the best views of beautiful HH.

If I had extra money, I would buy one of those and make it into a 'vomit comet' and sell tickets.

All that empty space inside to move in zero G would be fun. Just add some padding and nets to avoid injuries.

It's not pressurized

That's fine upto 15,000 ft for a maximum of 30 minutes according to aviation regulations. So depending on how you do your vomiting it may work :-)

The top of a Vomit Comet parabola is a lot higher than 15,000 feet. Having that as a ceiling is going to shorten the zero-g time a lot.

Not a problem, just issue each person a little O2 pony bottle and nasal cannula. At 2 lpm should be plenty for a 30m fun ride.

Tangential: one of the problems with Wikipedia - either help people write so that time isn't an issue, or have people who look for things and edit.

So much of this article refers to 2017 as being in the future.

Seems fine to me - what is annoying is an old article where you can't pin down when it was written. This way at least people can see that updating is needed.

Why these planes remain specialists equipment and not widely adopted by the logistics industry? Are they very inefficient?

I took a brief look and these planes are unpressurized.

This is opposite of the typical cargo planes, which often are older passenger planes or derived types that still have cabin pressurization.

It depends on what you're delivering. For the large airplane parts they are designed for, pressurization isn't needed.

Beluga XL has cargo space volume 2209 m^3, while An-225 Mriya has 1300 m^3 (pressurized), cargo weight is 53 and 189 tonnes, respectively. So you need a big, "light" and non-pressure requiring cargo to justify the use of Beluga XL, which is exactly what Airbus is using it for, by transporting fuselages of other planes.

Mriya is a 30 years old one-off, a better comparison would be An-124 or 747-8F.

Though Mriya's cargo weight capacity is 250t, 190t is the heaviest single item it's lifted (a power station gas generator, from Poland to Armenia).

Slightly off topic, but for those interested in aircraft designed specifically for logistics (esp. Military Materiel), see the Caspian Sea Monster. It was meant to leverage the "Pelican Effect" of flying low over water with a wide wingspan; it was never meant to fly more than a few feet high.



Speaking of the Pelican Effect, see the Boeing Pelican (concept only) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_Pelican

I think by the "Pelican Effect" you really mean the ground effect [1]. Ekranoplans are ground-effect-vehicles [2].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ground_effect_(aerodynamics)

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ground-effect_vehicle

These kinds of aircraft are built for special missions. This is not the first of it's kind. It reminds me of Super Guppy [1]. They are not very efficient aerodynamically due to the large frontal area. In addition, these are designed to carry oversized but not necessarily heavy loads; for example, the fuselage of another aircraft. So there is no point in mass producing them.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aero_Spacelines_Super_Guppy

> This is not the first of it's kind. It reminds me of Super Guppy [1].

The predecessor to the Beluga XL was the Beluga (in the early 90s), and before that Airbus used Super Guppies. They bought two, then bought the right to build them and built two more.

They can't carry much weight. Airplane parts are really light for their size and are basically entirely hollow.

Their point is to have enormous unpressurised volume ("oversized cargo"), their lifting capacity is not impressive compared to traditional cargo planes, especially for the price: each XL costs 200m (1bn for the entire program) for 50t, an An-224 can lift more than twice the weight for half the price.

However XL has more than twice the cargo volume.

Which makes me wonder: why aren't there new An-224 or An-225 cargo planes being build for the logistics industry - shouldn't there be ample demand?

Costs of operation. Airbus considered then abandoned the 380 Freighter, because despite the higher payload and range its higher operating costs than 747s (the reference for commercial cargo) were considered a non-starter.

While it was refitted and is active again, the An-225 was a strategic plane with the singular purpose of transporting Buran. After he dissolution of the USSR, it was mothballed for nearly a decade.

Big factor too is that the 747s can be had very cheap now that a lot of them are retired from passenger service.

That's true but I don't know how popular conversions are compared to "true" cargo builds or "combis".

I think it's probably just that if you wanted a general-purpose large-volume cargo aircraft, this isn't what you'd design. They wanted a thing that fit very specific, odd dimensions for a particular aircraft wing, and also didn't need very many of them, so they wanted to graft this all onto an off-the-shelf airframe. It ends up having what's probably an aerodynamically suboptimal shape, but Airbus doesn't care because at their low volumes, taking the hit there is easier than designing a new aircraft from the ground up that they'll only ever need a few of. Elsewhere in the industry, this particular shape probably isn't common, and if it were, there would be demand to design something better.

I love the beluga paint job.

Given its use for transporting large plane parts I’d think an airship would more cost effective. For wind turbine places and the like too, as in both cases size is a bigger barrier than weight.

I know there have been some airship projects in the past few years: why have they not succeeded?

Consider the software predicaments caused by the changed aerodynamics at some angles of the 737-MAX, and consider the shape of this thing compared to the A330. I wonder how much of the control of A330 had to be updated for this - and how much that will cost for each sold individual of the transporter version.

The problem of the 737 was trying to keep to the type rating so crew didn't need re-training and re-certification, especially for airlines which refuse to fly anything but 737s.

This was not a concern here, it's not going to be sold to operators (let alone operators who don't want to retrain crew).

There are only 5 Beluga XL (likewise its predecessor) and it exists solely and exclusively for Airbus to move parts around due to the distributed nature of its production.

Before Airbus built their own cargo aircraft, they used Super Guppies, which is why there is one on display near or in two of Airbus' facilities (Toulouse and Hamburg), despite the Guppy being on a Boeing base. Airbus actually bought the right to build Guppies at the time.

Airbus didn't have to cheat into the same type rating in this case. It is OK to have pilots qualified for this type, as opposed to Boeing being "forced" to grandfathering a different plane (737Max vs. 737NG in terms of aerodynamic handling)

Seems like the production of the 737-MAX is going to be stopped https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8HVnhrCM4Pk

This isn't even the first iteration of this airframe. The beluga-shaped Airbuses have been a thing for years.

I think the addition of the Beluga smile is just adorable.

How much do you have to spend on logistics so you end up paying $1 billion for a special plane program? Is transportation of parts is so speed-sensitive in plane manufacturing industry that you couldn't possibly use some other kind of transport?

This is actually a good question.

The answer is that Airbus is a consortium, a prestige project of the European Union.

One consequence of this, is that parts are manufactured in multiple countries, at a considerable distance from one another, as opposed to the more consolidated approach taken by Boeing.

Therefore, they have a unique need to ship very large and somewhat delicate parts from place to place. The Beluga is a consequence of this.

> One consequence of this, is that parts are manufactured in multiple countries, at a considerable distance from one another, as opposed to the more consolidated approach taken by Boeing.

FWIW Boeing built a similar plane (the 747-400 LCF / 747 Dreamlifter) to move 787 parts from suppliers, as they were considered too large for marine shipping and existing cargo planes. The biggest difference is LCF is a conversion from regular 747s (though according to wikipedia the program cost the same $1bn, being built from a much heavier plane the Dreamlifter has much higher capacity but somewhat lower volume in its similarly unpressurised hold).

The beluga (both the previous version and the XL one) are both derived from other Airbus planes (A300 & A330)

The belugas are derived from exiting frames but Airbus programs of their own.

The Dreamlifter is a straight up conversion of second-hand 747-400s by a contracted third-party (Evergreen Aviation Technologies Corporation).

Once you get over a certain size it's really hard to move things by conventional means, especially if you need your cargo to be protected from the elimates.

Airplanes have a major advantage of not needing to fit through tunnels, under powerlines, or around corners.

> The aircraft's lower fuselage will be assembled on the A330 final assembly line, and then be moved to another facility for the year-long process of assembling the upper fuselage and the lowered nose fuselage.

They do use Beluga XLs to these parts around too?

Well the name is fitting. It really looks like a beluga when looked from the side.

it wasn't even named as such, until they noticed the similarity

Anyone know anything about the routes that it's running? I'm surprised these kinds of large parts aren't moved around by barge.

Moving the parts by plane works better because the place where the parts are needed (aka the factory where they are put together) is at an airport, which is where this thing can land and directly offload right into the factory. Barges are tougher because unless there is a waterway directly next to the factory/airport (which isn't the case for Airbus's main factories AFAIK), it can be hard transporting such large pieces via streets between the waterway and the factory.

Various parts of the Airbus planes are moved with ships between factories.

Airbus ship at the Hamburg Finkenwerder factory:


That's a cool lookin boat. Airbus's factory in Hamburg is right on the Elbe, so it makes sense that they would use barges for transport to/from it. The factories in Toulouse and Seville are a bit farther from any waterways afaik.


The ship travels to Bordeaux and from there the parts will be brought with smaller ships to Toulouse.

While not on the Garonne itself, Airbus Toulouse is pretty close (3km), however it's way farther inland from the sea, on a smaller river, and IIRC there are pretty low lying bridges on the way, so they have to move the parts to river barges.

I also think even that 3km can be challenging when you're talking about having to move objects that are the length of a small skyscraper through narrow, twisty streets. I found this picture of such a move [1]. I wonder how often they have to do this!

1: https://airbus-h.assetsadobe2.com/is/image/content/dam/chann...

edit: I found this page [2] where it talks about moving A380 parts to Toulouse. It sounds like it does happen via the Garonne, but not anywhere even remotely close to Toulouse!

> Here, the components are transferred to specially-designed barges, which carry them on the penultimate part of their 95 km. voyage up Garonne River from Pauillac to Langon. ... In Langon, aircraft sections are transferred to outsized-load trucks to complete their journey to Toulouse by road.

That means the wings and other components have to travel more than 200km from Langon to Toulouse by road, which is wild. Good thing a lot of that is relatively empty countryside rather than packed city streets.

2: https://www.airbus.com/aircraft/how-is-an-aircraft-built/tra...

FWIW there's a video of A380 parts moving through the streets, they had to be scheduled at night and the tolerances (to buildings!) are really low, it's really cool.

A much larger version of the A-12 trips between Burbank and Area-51, which was also super cool.

From what I remember of a visit to one of the sites working on the Ariane 5 rockets, those are transported by waterways

You can track it by its flight number AIB45XL or call sign F-WBXL

e.g. here https://www.flightradar24.com/data/aircraft/f-wbxl

Mostly between Toulouse, St Nazaire, Hamburg, Bremen, Broughton (Chester), and Getafe (Madrid).

Parts are also moved by barge, this allows moving them much faster between facilities.

They run around Europe as Airbus has very distributed facilities for political reasons (it's a multinational project and thus has facilities in various countries), though mostly between Hamburg and Toulouse.

From time to time they also get chartered for non-airbus cargo: space program parts (that was a primary use case of its Super Guppy ancestor), copters to air show, relief supplies, and Liberty Leading the People between France and Japan in 1999 (as the painting was too large to fit in a 747).

Hamburg-Finkenwerder to Toulouse and back.

I haven't seen the XL in person, yet, but the Beluga is a common sighting over Hamburg.

They fly into Toulouse. The A380 parts were moved around by barge but there were problems getting them the final bit by road.

Have seen the older Beluga taking off and landing from Blagnac when I have been there.

Is this a case of biomimicry? Is the peculiar design functional?

The shape is just a result of the engineering decisions to reach Airbus's goal: transport fuselages to Toulouse. Those are relatively light, but big, so building a tube-like structure above the main "chassis" of the plane yields to this kind of shape, which we then recognize as a similarity to beluga.

Ah, so it was all after-the-fact. Thank you.

It certainly is not functional. It cannot fly in air. Like penguins, it can only 'fly' using a liquid medium. Hence the nickname. Coming soon to a river near you.

It is actually smaller than the Airbus Beluga

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_large_aircraft

Really? By what measure? The OP wiki page says this:

> With 30% more capacity than the existing Beluga, it will be able to carry two A350 XWB wings instead of one.[5] Its new fuselage is 6.9 m longer and 1.7 metre wider than the Beluga, and it will be able to lift a payload 6 tonnes heavier.

No it's not, it's bigger on every dimension.

That list isn't in order of size.

Those lists are alphabetical, not by size...

The parent is pretty much the worse kind of hn posting - not only did they not read the original article, they didn't read the wikipedia article they linked to as proof of their statement.

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