The Lesser Known Bulbous Aircraft Designs
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The Lesser Known Bulbous Aircraft Designs

This article aims to present the early bulbous approach in designing airplanes which contributed to the development of present day airliners. Decades before, these bulbous designs started as conversions of an existing aircraft design and despite their awkward appearance, they were able to fill up the need for transporting outsized cargo. Little had been known about these early bulbous aircraft designs and their significance is being emphasized in this article.

Bulbous aircraft designs came about as a necessity to address the need for providing space for oversized cargo and it was this need which revolutionized aircraft design compelling aeronautical engineers to come up with such approach in designing airplanes on the drawing board. The result gave birth to bigger airframe designs that could carry oversized and heavier cargo and it couldn't be denied that this manner of thinking in one way or the other influenced everything that led to the age of “jumbo” jets following the start of the commercial flight of the Boeing 747 in 1970 to the time of the “superjumbo” decades later  with the launching flight of the Airbus 380 in 2007, the rest of course is history. But before the bigger ones took the market and established the trend, there used to be the unspoken ones which provided the way. 

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Aero Spacelines Super Guppy – Based on a Boeing Stratocruiser (B-377) conversion, it gave birth to what was once considered “the fattest plane ever”. While a smaller first conversion design took flight in 1962 as the B-377PG (Pregnant Guppy), the Super Guppy version gained popularity with its capability to handle outsize cargo as large as an aircraft wing component itself. A Super Guppy  is powered by four Allison 3663 kW(4,912 hp) turboprop engines allowing it to carry almost any cargo imaginable deemed impossible to be airlifted. Airbus utilized the type for years before it was able to develop its own Guppy version based on the Airbus 300 airframe that eventually came to be known as the Airbus 300-600ST Beluga.


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Armstrong Whitworth AW.650/660 Argosy – Featuring a twin boom design with four Rolls-Royce Dart 526 turboprop engines, the Argosy earned the nickname “Whistling wheelbarrows” with the first  flight in 1959. Considered an advanced freighter during its time, its high operating cost didn't deter airlines to order it in numbers with production totalling 74 units. The type served for more than 30 years with the last flying Argosy retired in 1992.

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Aviation Traders Carvair – A conversion based on a four-engined Douglas DC-4 carried out by the British resulted into the Aviation Traders ATL. 98 Carvair (short for car-via-air) a name it attained filling up the need for a dedicated aerial carrier for transporting cars across the English Channel to  mainland Europe. With the first flight in 1961, a total of 21 Carvairs were built and following the design's good performance combined with cheap maintenance requirements it gained further patronage to be utilized around the world until it was retired in 1980.

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Breguet 763 Provence – Designed primarily as a twin deck airliner earning its French name Deux-Ponts (two decks) the first flight of the type was made in 1949 after which 18 units gained function  as a military transport under the name Sahara. Later Air France found it useful in carrying an assortment of passenger and cargo and gave it the name Provence. The type was considered the first French production aircraft to serve with Air France after the war until retired in 1971. Despite its short and bulbous appearance, the military version (Sahara) was known to carry 146 fully equipped troops, 85 stretchers in medevac function or  a number of military vehicles. This capacity justified the use of four Pratt & Whitney R-2800-CA18 radial engines allowing it a maximum payload of 10,844 kg (23,857 lbs). 

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Bristol 170 Freighter – Featuring a fixed main gear and a clamshell door at the nose for entry and exit of cargo, the 170 Freighter featured a simplified design with twin radial engines. Designed in the outset as a military transport in 1944, it outlived its purpose to include commercial freight and passenger transport at the end of war. With 214 built from 1945 to 1958, this type of aircraft remained in service in civilian duties carrying an assortment of cargo from small consignments, livestocks to cars. The last type made the last flight to a museum in 2004.



pp. 8-9, 24-25, 26-27, 72-73 Aviation Factfile – Civil Aircraft by Jim Winchester




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Comments (15)

Cool looking planes. The Super Guppy is super goofy looking though.

Interesting and you always make your articles so educational too.Thank you.

Interesting design of aircrafts, good profiling as usual Will.

I wasn't aware of most of this history. Very nicely presented as usual.

Thanks for all your comments everyone.

Interesting post. Thank you dear Deep Blue. Seeking your guidance and support

excellent coverage

You are so knowledgeable about aircrafts, Will. Those are simply extraordinary. A very educational post and very well illustrated. Thank you, my friend.

WOW , great!

You think that an airplane with the body mass like the super guppy would create alot of drag. However, they are all cool looking airplanes. I spent 20 years working as an aviation mechanic.

Fascinating glimpse into airplane history -- well done!

Some interesting looking planes!

Gotta Love the name 'Super Guppy!" 

Well explained and I like the way you organized the article with the photos. I recommend!

Nice article with essential tips. Thank you dear Deep Blue. Voted. Requesting your support.