Most people are familiar with the expression, “When pigs fly,” but what about whales?
The Airbus Beluga ST might share its name and shape with a certain marine mammal, but it is fair to say the similarities end there. Still, people looking into the afternoon sky near the approach to Orlando Sanford International Airport (KSFB) today might have needed a double-take.
The twinjet transport, based on the company’s A300-600, is carrying an Airbus-built satellite for delivery from Toulouse, France, to the Kennedy Space Center for a coming space mission. The aircraft’s arrival marks the first time a Beluga has visited the U.S. and the Space Center in 15 years.
Airbus said another of its satellites is already attached to a rocket that is scheduled to launch tonight near midnight from the Space Center.
Airbus has a fleet of Beluga aircraft, which have operated for more than 20 years. The model was previously known as the A300-600 ST until the Beluga nickname became popular and the company officially adopted it. Earlier this year Airbus launched an air-cargo service using Beluga STs to transport outsize freight worldwide.
Many aviation enthusiasts will recognize the Beluga as a successor to the Aero Spacelines Pregnant Guppy, a 1960s four-engine turboprop transport, and its improved Super Guppy sibling, which performed similar rocket-carrying duties throughout the Apollo space program.