Everett, USA: A gigantic, humpback-shaped cargo plane is set to become a common sight in a lot of places around the globe, as it begins carrying large pieces of Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner from factories in Japan, Italy, South Carolina and Kansas to the company's wide-body assembly plant here. A converted 747- 400 passenger plane, the "Dreamlifter" is already being looked upon as a marvel of aeronautical engineering and manufacturing logistics.
The Dreamlifter is basically a 747-400 passenger aircraft with its top lopped off, and with hinges attached to the tail that allow this huge top to swing open at the time of unloading. Boeing buys used 747s, strips them down and turns them into these gigantic carriers in Taipei, which also gives it one of the many names it has already begun to collect - Topless in Taipei.
At 65,000 cubic feet, the Dreamlifter has more than twice the cargo capacity of 747 freighters that global shipping companies, such as United Parcel Service Inc, fly.
Two Dreamlifters are already flying, even as Boeing awaits certification for the aircraft from the Federal Aviation Administration. A third is currently undergoing modification in Taipei, while a fourth waits its turn.
An important attachment linked to the Dreamlifter is a long, 32-wheeled cargo loader that drives up to the open-tailed freighter and pulls out fuselage sections, wings, and other 787 Dreamliner related shipment that it is carrying. The loader is unique in that it is designed not only to unload parts from the airplane, but also to carry them to the factory site and place them at the correct spots, simplifying the whole logistics process.
The Dreamlifter now allows Boeing to skip the sea-route to ferry parts from around the globe, which in the normal course of events would have consumed several weeks. Another problem with the sea route is the fact that some parts, like the wings and center fuselage of the Dreamliner, are so large that they cannot fit in standard shipping containers. This problem alone could have forced Boeing to buy their own merchant ships and reconfigure them to carry Dreamliner parts.
The Dreamlifter is also unique in that it is the first time that Boeing has designed a plane that simply plays a supporting role in the production of another plane.
The Dreamlifter follows in the footsteps of Airbus' own superfreighter, nicknamed the "Beluga," which since the mid-1990s has been carrying fuselage sections and wings from factories around Europe to its final assembly lines in Toulouse, France, and Hamburg, Germany. Airbus' fleet of five Belugas has also been used for other missions, such as transporting space station modules, chemical tanks, and even a large French painting. The Beluga, however, is smaller than the Dreamlifter.