Airbus Beluga Vs Boeing Dreamlifter – Which Fuselage Transporter Is Better?

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Both Airbus and Boeing employ their own freighter aircraft designed to transport aircraft components. But of the Beluga and the Dreamlifter, which is better? Who got it right? Let’s find out.

Boeing
The Boeing Dreamlifter. Photo: ERIC SALARD via Wikimedia

What are Fuselage Transporters?

Part of the magic of aerospace engineering and manufacturing is that aircraft parts are made across the world. A wing can be made in one country, or seats in another state. The question is then how Boeing and Airbus bring these items together for final assembly, as some things like the forward section of a plane can be a little too big for rail and would take too long by boat.

But being in the transport business, these builders decided to build their own aircraft that could transport anything, including planes. Thus the fuselage transporter variant was born.

Airbus decided to base theirs on the A300 and simply inflate the cabin space to cover the entire aircraft cargo. In fact, its so big it can take onboard multiple A320 forward sections.

The front of the aircraft opens up for cargo. Photo: Aeroprints via Wikipedia.

Boeing decided to convert its popular Boeing 747 series into four air freighters that could carry Dreamliner components (including wings). The ‘Dreamlifter’ is based specifically on the Boeing 747-400 (which Boeing had to re-acquire from Air China) and has a very unique tail swing technology.

Boeing
The Dreamlifter’s tail swings right open. Photo: ERIC SALARD via Flickr

Both these aircraft are very different and are designed to transport different components. Thus we will measure them based on very specific metrics such as range and cargo capacity.

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Airbus Beluga Vs Boeing Dreamlifter

The Airbus Beluga can carry 47,000 kg (103,617 lb) in a typical load, with a volume of 1,500 m3 (53,000 cu ft). It has a range of 2,779 km (1,727 mi, 1,501 nmi) with 40 t (88,000 lb) payload – 4,632 km (2,501 nmi) with 26 t (57,000 lb) payload.

There is actually a bigger version of the Beluga called the XL that has an improved size (based on the A330-200) of 2,209 m3 (78,000 cu ft) volume and a range of 4,300 km (2,600 mi, 2,300 nmi) at the max payload.

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The Boeing Dreamlifter, however, has a volume of 65,000 cubic feet (1,840 cubic meters) and the maximum payload capacity is 250,000 lb (113,400 kg). It also has a range of 4,200 nmi (4,800 mi; 7,800 km).

Let us start with cargo capacity.

Cargo

We can see from the stats that the Boeing Dreamliner has a bigger internal space than the Beluga, but this is beaten by the very new Beluga XL design. We would say that this comes down to basing the transport on a 747 as opposed to a smaller design (such as a 767 for example).

Range

The range is more interesting, as we can that the Beluga is not really designed to go far. That makes sense when you see that the factories are located across France and Germany, and the aircraft isn’t expected to fly further than West Europe. It can push up to the distance offered by the Dreamliner, but not at max load which kind of defeats the purpose.

The Bulga XL has a superior range compared to both, but likely this is due to being a new design with up to date engines.

Airbus
These aircraft will be in use for many years to come. Photo: NASA/Jim Grossmann

Which is best?

The Airbus Beluga is beaten by the Boeing Dreamlifter, which in turn is beaten by the Beluga XL.

What we have here is an argument not based on aircraft design but time. The Beluga was introduced in 1995, the Dreamlifter in 2007 and the latest Beluga XL in 2016. Is it fair to compare aircraft that are each 10 years apart from each other? We can expect Boeing to come out with their own new version in the next five to ten years that is likely to leave the Airbus variants in the dust.

What do you think? Which is best? Let us know in the comments.

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