Why Airbus Used To Carry New Aircraft Parts In Boeing Aircraft

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Since the early years of Airbus, its decentralized nature has required the planemaker to transport aircraft components from various parts of Europe to a final assembly facility. Before developing its own Beluga and subsequent Beluga XL, it was often said that “every Airbus is delivered on the wings of a Boeing.” Let’s briefly look at how Boeing (very) indirectly gave Airbus a helping hand in those early years and why this was necessary.

Super Guppy
The Super Guppy was based on the fuselage of a C-97 Turbo Stratofreighter, which was the military variant of the Boeing 377 Stratofreighter. Photo: Duch.seb via Wikimedia Commons 

Airbus’ decentralized structure

To understand how and why Airbus first used Boeing aircraft, it’s important to understand the planemaker’s business model.

As is fairly common knowledge now, Airbus’ founding is rooted in cooperation between several European countries. When it came to the planemaker’s first big project, the A300, it was proposed that the following components be manufactured by the following countries:

  • French should make the cockpit, as well as the control systems and the lower center section of the fuselage.
  • The wings were to be made in the UK.
  • The Germans should make the forward and rear fuselage sections, plus the upper part of the center section.
  • The Dutch would make the moving parts of the wing, such as flaps and spoilers.
  • The Spanish, who would become a full partner in 1971, would build the horizontal tailplane.
Super Guppy
Airbus had a total of four Super Guppys. Two came from the original manufacturer – Aerospacelines. The other two were made by Airbus. Photo: Getty Images

“The basic idea of Airbus has always been to compete against established manufacturers. We had to bring something more….I wanted to use all the available talents and capacities to their utmost without worrying about the colour of the flag or what language was spoken,” -Roger Béteille, Technical director of the A300 programme

Of course, this decentralized way of manufacturing components required a method of transportation. Enter the Aero Spacelines Super Guppy.

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Built on a Boeing platform

In its early years, Airbus made use of two Super Guppy aircraft, built by an American company by the name of Aero Spacelines. This company, and its Super Guppy product, was formed with the main intent of providing NASA (the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration) a way to transport large cargo between facilities.

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The Super Guppy was actually a modified KC-97, which is the military variant of the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser. This is how the phrase “every Airbus is delivered on the wings of a Boeing” came to be.

377 Stratocruiser
The C-97 was a military transport aircraft. Its original passenger variant, the 377 Stratocruiser, had two passenger decks. Photo: Aeroprints.com via Wikimedia Commons 

The Super Guppies and Airbus

Airbus purchased two Super Guppy Turbines in the 1970s to assist with the production of the aforementioned A300. These would become an integral part of the manufacturer’s operations.

As momentum picked up for A300 production, Airbus needed additional transport aircraft to support its operations. However, once this need was realized, Aero Spacelines, maker of the Super Guppy, had gone out of business.

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Eventually, Airbus was able to acquire the rights to manufacture the Super Guppy. This enabled them to build two of their own, which were used for many years.

Airbus, Boeing, 2020 Deliveries
Airbus replaced the Super Guppy with the Beluga – based on an A300 platform. The Beluga was then replaced by the Beluga XL – based on an A330. Photo: Getty Images

Needing an even larger aircraft to transport the broad wings of the A340, Airbus developed its own Super Guppy replacement, the Beluga, modified from an A300. This has been further developed into the Beluga XL, based on the A330.

Interestingly, the Super Guppy that NASA still uses came from Airbus!

“Our current aircraft, tail number 941, was acquired from Airbus through an international order in 1997. It’s the very last Super Guppy that was completed, and the only one still flying.” -John Bakalyar, program manager for the Super Guppy, NASA via CNN

Have you seen the Super Guppy for yourself? Please share your experience with us in the comments.

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