You are currently viewing Meet the Boeing Dreamlifter and the Airbus Beluga

Today, I’ll introduce you to these 2 strange-looking planes. Even if you won’t often see them flying around airports near you, the Boeing Dreamlifter and Airbus Beluga are very real: they’re used to transport oversized plane parts during the aircraft assembly process.

Seeing how weird they look, some were surprised when news of the Beluga’s arrival near Montreal this weekend came out.

And since I promised a bit more content for those who are “aviation geeks” like me, here are details about these 2 unusual planes.


Boeing Dreamlifter

The Dreamlifter is officially the Boeing 747-400 LCF (Large Cargo Freighter).

Dreamlifter front view (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


It serves only to transport Boeing 787 aircraft components. The 787 is known as the Dreamliner (and it is one of the most innovative planes of the 21st century, it really is more comfortable to fly in one).

That’s why it’s called this cargo plane is called the Dreamlifter.

Dreamlifter rear view (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


I saw a Dreamlifter once, from my room at the Courtyard Everett Downtown (free for 17,500 Marriott points, instead of the $250 price the night we were there in the peak summer season). It was flying pretty low, as it approached Paine Field (PAE), home of Boeing.

It’s really impressive, unlike anything else flying the skies. It is huge.

You might have recognized the nose: the Dreamlifter is a heavily-modified version of the iconic 747 double-decker, the Queen of the Skies.

Former Air Canada B747-400 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


The 747 was the largest commercial airliner in the world for a very long time. And yes, even Air Canada used to operate these! Very few 747 operators remain though, sadly.

Well, the 4 Boeing Dreamlifters are converted 747-400s… but they hold a whopping 3 times more cargo volume (that can be loaded through a swing-tail opening).

Dreamlifter being loaded (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


When the first 747-400 LCF was ready, they actually flew it unpainted for a while, giving it an even weirder look.

The first Dreamlifter (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


Airbus Beluga

If there’s one thing to know about the aerospace industry, it’s that Airbus and Boeing are fierce competitors. So there’s a similar Airbus plane, and in fact, the Beluga has been around for far longer.

The original Beluga (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


In January 2020, the updated Airbus Beluga XL was launched to replace the original Beluga eventually. It is officially called the Airbus A330-743L.

Beluga XL (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


As you can tell from the full name, it is based on the Airbus A330, although the resemblance is not as easy to spot as in the case of the Boeing 747.

There are 5 Beluga XLs in service.

Beluga XL (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


This image of parts being unloaded from the Beluga shows this aircraft’s massive size.

Beluga (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


Other oversized planes

An earlier cargo plane with a strange shape was the Aero Spacelines Super Guppy (and its predecessor). NASA actually still uses it!

Super Guppy (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


And while it doesn’t have a silhouette as strange as the others, the Antonov An-225 is unique.

The Soviet-built plane (only one was built) had 6 engines and was the heaviest aircraft ever built. It also had the largest wingspan of any aircraft in operational service. It was sadly destroyed in the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The Antonov An-225 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


Finally, speaking of weird things flying, it’s still noteworthy to mention the regular 747, and its ability to transport a space shuttle on top of its fuselage.

A 747 carrying Space Shuttle Enterprise (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


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These oversized cargo planes almost look fake, but they’re not. The unusual shape of both the Boeing Dreamlifter and the Airbus Beluga is designed to maximize cargo space for aircraft parts.

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Featured image: Beluga XL and Dreamlifter (photo credit: Wikipedia Commons)

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Andrew D'Amours

Andrew is the co-founder of Flytrippers. He is passionate about traveling the world but also, as a former management consultant, about the travel industry itself. He shares his experiences to help you save money on travel. As a very cost-conscious traveler, he loves finding deals and getting free travel thanks to travel rewards points... to help him visit every country in the world (current count: 71/193 Countries, 47/50 US States & 9/10 Canadian Provinces).

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