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Belugas and Guppies

Earlier today we told you about the Dreamlifter Large Cargo Freighter, which Boeing uses to move aircraft components around the world.  Basically it is a huge costly machine that attempts to speed up a convoluted global supply chain that arose from a bizarre confluence of questionable management decisions and political gamesmanship.

Several readers have since written in to tell us that Boeing was actually late to this ridiculous game, and that Airbus is truly the pioneer in supply chain nonsense.  Especially supply chain nonsense that has arisen as the result of politicians messing with what could be a perfectly good manufacturing process.  A couple months ago Bill wrote about how Airbus decided to can the one executive who knew something about manufacturing.

Guppy_1 It turns out that Airbus has been playing the super freighter flying warehouse game for many years.   Just two years after their inception, in 1972, they began to operate a small fleet of "Super Guppys" that were heavily modified Boeing Stratocruisers from the 1940's.  This became the source of the joke that every Airbus was delivered on the wings of a Boeing. 

The joke became just a little too embarassing, andBeluga of course the Stratocruisers became just a little too old, so in 1990 Airbus began work on a replacement based off of the Airbus A300.  This monstrosity, eventually to be known even officially as the Beluga, began flying in 1995.

But this story gets even better than Boeing's.  Boeing needs to transport large subassemblies from far-flung factories around the world.  Airbus just needs to move them a couple hundred miles around Europe.  And many components, especially large subassemblies for the new A380, won't even fit on the Beluga and still need to be transported overground.  Imagine doing this through the centuries-old towns of Europe.  The wings are so large that they must go on a barge, which must move only at low tide in order to clear a bridge... by only 10cm.  A fuselage must wind its way through a medieval village, clearing buildings by only 5cm.

All to satisfy politicians that mandate factories be evenly dispersed throughout the countries of the EADS/Airbus partners.  To learn more about this ridiculous supply chain, or as they call it "a challenging logistical situation," watch the special on the Discovery Channel on January 11th.  Actually you should Tivo or otherwise record it, and then show it to your operation as an example of what happens when common sense gets thrown out the window. 

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One Response to "Belugas and Guppies"

  • Pat Lefler
    10 January 2007 - 6:31 am

    Actually, our use of the “Super Guppys” pre-dated Airbus’ use. NASA (the originator of the convoluted supply chain) used the Guppy and Super Guppy in the 1960’s to ferry outsized components from around the country.
    I remember all this because I grew up in Long Beach, CA in the 1960’s and it seemed that once a week, you would see a Super Guppy land and take off from Long Beach Airport. There is a pretty good (but somewhat long) article about this airplane in American Heritage Magazine titled: Pregnant Guppy: The Strange Epic of the Ugly Airplane That Got Us to the Moon. Here is the link: http://www.americanheritage.com/articles/magazine/it/2002/4/2002_4_30.shtml