Airplanes That Carry Other Airplanes

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A cargo aircraft also known as freight aircraft is specially designed for carrying goods, rather than passengers. They are usually devoid of passenger amenities, and generally feature one or more large doors for the loading and unloading of cargo. Aircraft designed for cargo flight usually have a number of features that distinguish them from conventional passenger aircraft: a "fat" looking fuselage, a high-wing to allow the cargo area to sit near the ground, a large number of wheels to allow it to land at unprepared locations, and a high-mounted tail to allow cargo to be driven directly into and off the aircraft.

The biggest and heaviest cargo carrier is the Antonov An-225 Mriya introduced into service in 1988. The Antonov An-225 was designed to airlift the Energia rocket's boosters and the Buran space shuttle for the Soviet space program. The An-225 can carry ultra-heavy and oversize freight, up to 250,000 kg internally or 200,000 kg on the upper fuselage.

The An-225 has become the workhorse of the Antonov Airlines fleet, transporting objects once thought impossible to move by air, such as locomotives and 150-ton generators. It has become an asset to international relief organizations for its ability to quickly transport huge quantities of emergency supplies during disaster relief operations.


Antonov An-225 with Buran atop at the Paris Air Show in June 1989. Photo credit

In September 2001, carrying 4 main battle tanks at a record load of 253.82 tonnes of cargo, the An-225 flew at an altitude of 2 km over a closed circuit of 1,000 km at a speed of 763.2 km/h. On August 2009, the Antonov 225 carried the heaviest single cargo item ever sent via air freight – a 189 ton generator for a gas power plant in Armenia.

A second An-225 was partially built during the late 1980s for the Soviet space program, but it was never completed following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the cancellation of the Buran space program. A decision was made in September 2006 to complete the second An-225, but lack of funds have delayed the completion of the aircraft once again. According to different sources, the second jet is 60-70% complete.


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The Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicle Mystic (DSRV 1) is carefully loaded onto a Russian-built Antonov An –124. Photo credit

Antonov An-124 is another heavy lifter. It has been used to transport the Atlas V launch vhenicles, satellites and other airplanes. On May 1987, an An-124 set a world record, covering the distance of 20,151 km without refuelling with a takeoff weight of 455,000 kg. The flight took 25 hours and 30 minutes. An An-124 appeared in the James Bond film Die Another Day.


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The Super Guppy is used extensively by NASA to ferry components for the International Space Station and Project Orion. The Super Guppy aircraft was acquired by NASA from the European Space Agency under an International Space Station barter agreement. Manufactured by Airbus Industries, ESA supplied the aircraft to offset the cost to NASA of carrying ESA experiment equipment to the station as part of two future Space Shuttle flights. The new Super Guppy is the latest version in a long line of Guppy cargo aircraft used by NASA. Guppy aircraft were used in several past space programs, including Gemini, Apollo, and Skylab, to transport spacecraft components.


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A crowd in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle watches NASA's Super Guppy aircraft approach Boeing Field, carrying a key piece of a space shuttle mockup that will go on display at Seattle's Museum of Flight. Photo credit: MSNBC


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NASA employs another extensively modified Boeing 747 airliners called the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) used to transport Space Shuttle orbiters. The SCAs were used to ferry Space Shuttles from landing sites back to the Shuttle Landing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center, and to and from other locations too distant for the orbiters to be delivered by ground transport.


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Another dolphin shaped cargo carrier is Airbus Beluga. The primary task of Airbus Beluga is to carry Airbus components ready for final assembly across Europe, but they are also available for charter work, and have been used to carry a variety of special loads, including space station components, large, very delicate artwork, industrial machinery, and entire helicopters.


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At the Shuttle Landing Facility, the European Space Agency's research laboratory, designated Columbus, is being offloaded onto an Airbus Transport International platform. Photo credit


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Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

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