An Airbus A300-600 ST, better known as Beluga, arrived on October 15 at Cape Canaveral in Florida to deliver a telecommunications satellite. It had been more than ten years since the cargo plane had touched American soil.
A Beluga (A300-600 ST) landing at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, this hadn’t happened since 2009. At the time, it was used to transport the European “Tranquility” module of the International Space Station . This time it was a telecommunications satellite built by Airbus for Eutelsat that he transported. The launch of the satellite is scheduled for early November by a Falcon 9 rocket from SpaceX. Very sensitive to humidity, the fragile cargo traveled inside a large container in the hold of the aircraft.
Four stops to refuel
Leaving Toulouse on Thursday October 13 with 30% sustainable fuel, the Airbus cargo plane only arrived at its destination on Saturday October 15. With a range limited to 1,600 km, the Beluga was indeed forced to make several stops to refuel. He stopped for the first time on the Portuguese island of Terceira in the middle of the Atlantic in the Azores archipelago. He then joined Beaver Creek in Canada. After two additional stops in Portsmouth and Orlando in the United States, he finally landed at Cape Canaveral.
Beluga ST: the cargo plane with giant generous dimensions
With its 39 m long, 7 m wide and high, the volume of the Beluga ST’s hold is one of the largest on the market, far ahead of the Boeing Dreamlifter, the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy and even the Antonov An-124. Its maximum payload is 40 tons.
With the arrival of the new BelugaXLs in its fleet, Airbus can gradually use the Beluga STs to develop its oversized air freight business on behalf of manufacturers. Since last January, and the implementation of this new service operated via the airline dedicated to freight Airbus Transport International, the aircraft manufacturer has thus been able to carry out several missions such as the delivery of helicopters from Marignane to Singapore, Kobe and São Paulo . Airbus currently has two BelugaSTs for this, it will have three in 2023 and will have the entire fleet, i.e. five aircraft from 2024.
A special airline will be created
An Airbus Beluga Transport airline, a 100% subsidiary of Airbus, will be created specifically for this activity next year. In order to maximize the rotation capacity of the Beluga ST for its international clientele, new loading techniques and equipment are being developed for these operations. On September 21, a new loading system developed by Airbus engineers made it possible to place a Sikorsky CH-53 Stallion military helicopter in the hold of a Beluga ST.
With the war in Ukraine, the Antonov company, which specializes in XXL freight air transport, was forced to downsize. Airbus therefore intends to fill this gap and hopes to capture part of this market, which represents several hundred missions per year.