As Airbus calls on its A300-600ST "Beluga" heavy lifter for transporting oversized loads for the company's various large aircraft projects, so too does Boeing through the services and capabilities of its "Dreamlifter". This massive aircraft is a heavily-modified Model 747-400 passenger-hauler, featuring an extra-deep fuselage, and was exclusively designed, developed and built for servicing the Model 787 "Dreamliner" product line. Four Dreamlifter aircraft were converted in all with the first one flown on September 9th, 2006. It was introduced in 2007 and continues to fly today (2017).
The Dreamlifter model was conceived of by Boeing in an effort to reduce the transport times of its oversized critical assemblies from overseas locations such as Japan. The company then commissioned for three modified (second-hand) Model 747 "Jumbo Jets" to serve as the primary ferry aircraft for these assemblies, resulting in something of a whole new product emerging. Engineering help was had from outside parties based in far-off places like Russia and Spain and the first conversion took place in 2006. While the fleet was originally to number three aircraft, a fourth example was added in 2010 to further facilitate transportation of these large assemblies. Appearing in August of 2006 at Taipei Taoyuan International Airport, the beast was flown for the first time the following month.
At first glance, the Dreamlifter is something out of a Jumbo Jet nightmare. It retains all of the function of the earlier 747, as well as its wing mainplanes, tail unit, undercarriage and nose section but seats an oversized section of fuselage running just aft of the flightdeck to just before the base of the vertical tail fin. The aft section of the aircraft is hinged to open to portside to allow for unfettered access to the entire cargo hold from the rear. The front of the aircraft has conventional access for the crew and some smaller cargo through traditional side-mounted doors.
As designed, the aircraft has an overall length of 70.7 feet, a wingspan of 211.4 feet and a height of 70.7 feet. Its Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) reaches 803,000lb and the aircraft can cruise at speeds of 475 knots out to ranges of 4,200 nautical miles. Power is from 4 x Pratt & Whitney PW062 turbofan engines, each rated at 63,300lb of thrust output. The base operating crew is two to three personnel though more can be added as needed per mission.
The investment has proven its worth for the company as the Dreamlifter has done what it has set out to do. It's cargo area can store up to 250,000lb through its 65,000 cubic foot hold. it has the same wingspan as the Model 747-400 and has the needed range for the travels required of bringing assemblies to the Boeing facilities in the Northwestern United States.
In a highly publicized error, one of the Dreamlifter aircraft accidentally landed at a small general aviation aircraft (Colonel James Jabara Airport) in Wichita, Kansas. It managed to take-off from the confines of the location the following day en route to its original destination - McConnell Air Force Base.