While much of our focus is on commercial aircraft, it’s sometimes nice to take a look further back behind the scenes at the machines and processes that are part of building those big jets.
In December 2006, Boeing announced the 747 LCF (Large Cargo Freighter) would be named Dreamlifter, a reference to the 787’s name, Dreamliner. It unveiled a standard livery for the aircraft that included a logo reminiscent of the 787’s Dreamliner logo.
Part of the 787 assembly process requires components to be flown from around the world to the United States using a modified 747.
But with large components like wings and fuselage sections, how exactly does Boeing load its Dreamlifter?
The answer to getting the Dreamlifter loaded goes by the name ‘DBL,’ which has lovingly been given the nickname “Darn Big Loader.” That name doesn’t seem to be official, but it is used quite commonly. This impressive machine measures 35.96 m and holds the Guinness World Record title of “longest aircraft loader in the world”. A title which was officially awarded to it 12 June 2006.
The DBL is manufactured by a French company that goes by the name of TLD. TLD has become a multinational corporation with manufacturing sites located around the world (France, China, United States). In fact, the DBL is actually located in Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada.
According to Aviation Pros, the DBL’s size equates to one third the length and half the width of a football field. Interestingly, the loader was designed and built in less than 15 months, specifically for Boeing’s 787 program.
This meant that Boeing and TLD engineers had to work together on designing the machine, which began around the spring of 2004. This eventually led to the contract being issued to TLD in February of 2005. On the Boeing side, the overall direction was provided to TLD. This included the operational concept, interface and control system requirements. With these requirements and parameters, TLD went to work on the design.
One example requirement was that the platform could not flex. This requirement prevents unintentional flex of any airframe components it would be lifting. The DBL also has the ability to rotate and turn 360 degrees via its “crab” steering system.
“Designing and building a cargo loader of this magnitude is a unique proposition,” said Scott Strode, 787 vice president of Airplane Development and Production. “A robust transportation system is essential to meeting the unprecedented customer demand for the Dreamliner, and a safe and efficient cargo loader is critical. We couldn’t be more pleased with the result.”
In June 2006, the first DBL-100 cargo loader used for loading 787 parts into the 747 Dreamlifter was completed. The finished DBL was delivered by the world’s largest and most powerful transport aircraft, the AN-225, created by Antonov Design Bureau based in Kyiv, Ukraine.
What is the secret of the impeccable precision work of the giant DBL loader? An operator seated in a cab atop the loader drives the machine to the parked Dreamlifter. Sensors perfectly align it to the LCF’s cargo-handling system, which is the key to safe cargo loading and unloading.
In the photo below you can see how a pair of 787 Dreamliner wings are seen being carefully loaded onto a Boeing Dreamlifter cargo plane on Feb. 12, 2020, at Central Japan International Airport in Tokoname, Aichi Prefecture. (The Mainichi)