A cargo aircraft (also known as freight aircraft or freighter) is a fixed-wing aircraft designed or converted for the carriage of goods, rather than passengers. They are usually devoid of passenger amenities, and generally feature one or more large doors for the loading and unloading of cargo. Freighters may be operated by civil passenger or cargo airlines, by private individuals or by the armed forces of individual countries. However most air freight is carried in special ULD containers in the cargo holds of passenger aircraft.
Aircraft designed for cargo flight use have a number of features that distinguish them from conventional passenger aircraft: a "fat" looking fuselage, a high-wing to allow the cargo area to sit near the ground, a large number of wheels to allow it to land at unprepared locations, and a high-mounted tail to allow cargo to be driven directly into and off the aircraft.
Aircraft were put to use carrying cargo in the form of air mail as early as 1911. Although the earliest aircraft were not designed primarily as cargo carriers, by the mid 1920s aircraft manufacturers were designing and building dedicated cargo aircraft.
The earliest "true" cargo aircraft is arguably the World War II German design, the Arado Ar 232. The Ar 232 was intended to supplant the earlier Junkers Ju 52 freighter conversions, but only small numbers were built. Most other forces used freighter versions of airliners in the cargo role as well, most notably the C-47 Skytrain version of the Douglas DC-3, which served with practically every allied nation. Post war Europe also served to play a major role in the development of the modern air cargo and air freight industry during what became known as the "Cold War." It is during the Berlin Airlift at the height of this "Cold War," when a massive mobilization of aircraft was undertaken by the "free world," to supply West Berlin residents with food and supplies, in a virtual around the clock air bridge; after the Soviet Union closed and blockaded Berlin's borders, and land links to the west.
In the years following the war era a number of new custom-built cargo aircraft were introduced, often including some "experimental" features. For instance, the US's C-82 Packet featured a removable cargo area, while the C-123 Provider introduced the now-common upswept tail with a drop-down loading and unloading ramp. But it was the introduction of the turboprop that allowed the class to mature, and even one of its earliest examples, the C-130 Hercules, is still the yardstick against which newer military transport aircraft designs are measured.
Most conversions are carried out on older aircraft no longer suitable for passenger use, often due to changing safety or noise requirements, or when the aircraft type is considered to have become uncompetitive in passenger airline service, but there is also a market for new-build freighter designs. Freighter aircraft normally have strengthened cabin floors and the inclusion of a broad top-hinged door on the port fuselage in addition to an absence of passenger cabin windows which are "plugged."
The Boeing 747 can be ordered in a freighter version with a large nose door which could be raised above the cockpit for loading. The bulged top deck housing the cockpit was originally designed to allow an unobstructed main deck, and to keep cargo from crushing the pilots in the case of an accident. The interior size of the fuselage is matched to the size of a standard shipping container, stacked two high and two wide.
Other types of specialized civilian cargo aircraft configurations, include the swing-tail Canadair CL-44 and Boeing 747 Large Cargo Freighter, and the clamshell tail CASA CN-235.
Early Air mail and airlift logistics aircraft
|The Type 158 York ,.|
Important "airlift and logistics;" "cargo-liners," "mail-liners," and "mail aircraft."
Avro Lancastrian (Transatlantic mail)
Avro York (Berlin Airlift)
Aero Spacelines Super Guppy
Airbus A320 (Conversions)
Antonov An-225 (the largest and heaviest aircraft in the world)
Boeing 737 (Conversions)
Boeing 747 Freighter
Boeing 747 Large Cargo Freighter (Dreamlifter)
Boeing 777 Freighter
McDonnell Douglas DC-10
McDonnell Douglas MD-11
Cessna Caravan - freight door and belly pod equipped
Shorts 330 - drop ramp and twin tailed vertical stabilizer
Military cargo aircraft
A turboprop twin-engined transport aircraft: the Antonov An-32
Military transport aircraft
Experimental cargo aircraft
Hughes H-4 Hercules ("Spruce Goose")
Lockheed R6V Constitution