Modern Cargo Aircraft – Various Long Haul Short Haul Cargo Planes

Introduction To Modern Cargo Aircraft

Before planes were invented, ships, barges and boats carried freight. Ships crossed the oceans and boats and barges were used for inland waterways.Ships carried a vast amount of cargo and proved to be a blessing for transporting huge and oversized freight across the oceans. Ships take a long time in reaching the destinations, which at times proved to be a negative influence on the industry geared to race against time. When passenger aircraft began carrying freight, the speed of the industrial development began to change. Within a short span of time, air freight made it to the front. Modern cargo aircraft changed the freight world further.

Today air freight is fully integrated into society that there is no surprise in it anymore, except when a large machine makes it to the news. Your attention is requested to a small anecdote here, the courtesy for which goes to Roland Spijker, who has done us all a very great service in putting up the largest set of information about the history of air freight on Facebook. Short narration of the aircraft in use follow this short interesting piece of news.

modern cargo aircraft

 Courtesy : Roland Spijker

In 1910 the Wright Brothers received an unsolicited letter from Max Morehouse, a Columbus, Ohio department store owner inquiring “how much will you charge to bring a roll of silk ribbon from your city to our establishment?”This inquiry led to a contact between Morehouse and the Wright Exhibition Company to fly 200 pounds of silk worth $800 from Dayton to Columbus.

The airplane to be used was the latest Wright airplane, the Model B. It was the first Wright airplane to use wheels instead of a sled design. Another significant design change was that the vertical stabilizer was moved from the front of the airplane to the rear behind the tail. The Model B had a thirty-nine foot wing span and was powered with a forty horsepower gasoline engine.

Philip Parmalee, a 24-year-old graduate of the Wright flying school, was selected as the pilot. He was trained at the Wright’s school located in Montgomery Alabama.

There were few navigational aids to guide flight in those days, so Orville gave Parmalee a map of a railroad track to follow to Columbus, which he fastened to a wing strut for ease of viewing.

At 10:45 a.m. on November 7, 1910, Parmalee took off from Huffman Prairie airfield outside of Dayton headed for Columbus. Huffman Prairie was in reality a cow pasture that the Wrights used after their experiments at Kitty Hawk. It is now a part of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Here begins the history of air cargo which later saw the development of modern cargo aircraft. In 1925 Ford Motor Company  started flying cargo extensively. For those in the state of Sacramento (North East),US, there is a heartwarming  experience awaiting you, in the State Parks Warehouse, McClellan Air Force Base (This has nothing to do with cargo planes but a look back into history). The narration below will concentrate only on short pieces of information relevant to freight in general, but will also contain a few words about the planes. Not all the aircraft mentioned here are seen on a daily basis but those who are in the field of freight forwarding will be interested in the three-point description about the freight possibilities.

Special configurations of planes are not referred to here (e.g. Finnair uses an ATR72 with the passenger entrance in the front. Standard configuration of this aircraft has the cargo hold door in the front)

A Short Remembrance Of The Forerunner Of Today’s Giants

Following a crash in Kharkiv International Airport, 18th May 1972 saw the end of a short era (1955 – 1972) of a proud Antonov aircraft, AN10. This turboprop aircraft lead the way to a series of efficient aircraft, carrying the name Antonov, and built especially for carrying freight. The aircraft that followed AN10 were for military purposes and even today this continues to be true. AN10 did not have a good cabin volume efficiency and suffered stability problems, as well, which lead to changes in the architecture. AN10 does not fly anymore but the Antonov planes that followed are some of the largest carriers in service.

cargo aircraft AN10Courtesy: Aleksander Markin  Creative Commons

Smaller Aircraft

Shorts 360 (SD3-60)

There are times when a not so big piece of freight needs to be flown in the case of an emergency delivery. The choice here is an interesting  modern cargo aircraft with an interesting architecture, which reminds us a bit of the “good old times”. Although used as a passenger plane, Short 360 is also used for short-haul flights for carrying freight. This Irish plane is still in use, although the production stopped in 1991. This is a strut braced shoulder wing aircraft (wings are on the shoulder and struts support the wings (see below in the picture) .

  • Maximum Loadable Volume: 40 cubic meters
  • Maximum payload: 3500 Kg
  • Cargo Door : Width = 142 cm x Height 168 cm

cargo aircraft

Courtesy : Jerome   Licence: Creative Commons

 ATR 72 The French Italian aircraft

From 1986, the shoulder wing, turboprop,  short seat pitch, ATR 72 has been in service, with a capacity for up to 68 passengers. The passenger entrance is at the rear, because the cargo door is in the front. When parked for loading a tail prop is required to maintain the horizontal position of the aircraft, since the loading might result in the tail dipping, lifting the nose off the ground.

  • Maximum Loadable Volume : 8000 Kg
  • Maximum payload : 75 cubic meters
  • Cargo Door : Width = 294 cm  x Height  180 cm

In freight forwarding the aircraft is used for short-haul flights for emergency freight. FedEx, too, deploys this plane in their fleet. Apart from this, the modern sleek cargo plane is usually used in passenger services.

In the Photo below, the cargo hold door shown in the front and  the passenger stairway, at the rear, integrated into the fuselage. Directly behind the stairway, the tail prop can be seen.

cargo aircraft
ATR 72 CCM” by Mili99 – Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons.



 Metroliners : II and III and 23cargo aircraft

No more under production but still in service, Metroliners (bought by Fairchild from Swearingen after the latter suffered financial crisis), this twin turboprop is used for emergency short-haul freight charters, apart from passenger flights. It is a shoulder wing plane.

Both have the same cargo door sizes. Metroliner 23 has a higher freight capacity (2300 Kg) compared to II (1400 Kg)and III (2100 Kg) but a slightly smaller door (see below)

Metroliner II

  • Maximum Loadable Volume : 1400 Kg
  • Maximum payload : 75 cubic meters
  • Cargo Door : Width = 130 cm  x Height  115 cm

Metroliner III

  • Maximum Loadable Volume : 2100 Kg
  • Maximum payload : 75 cubic meters
  • Cargo Door : Width = 130 cm  x Height  115 cm

Metroliner 23

  • Maximum Loadable Volume : 2300 Kg
  • Maximum payload : 75 cubic meters
  • Cargo Door : Width = 127 cm  x Height  115 cm



cargo aircraftCourtesy: Martin Hartland  Metroliner II  Creative Commons Licence


The Large And Very Large Cargo Aircraft


 Antonov 225 Mriya

Two aircraft come to mind when one thinks of extremely large modern cargo aircraft. AN225  also called as Mriya (Dream) is a huge machine . If we leave out Hercules H-4, AN225 is the largest machine ever built. Only one aircraft built. The second one is still in construction! A six engine awe-inspiring giant of the skies.

  • Maximum Payload : 250,000 Kg
  • Maximum Volume : 1100 cubic meters
  • Cargo Door : Width 640cm x Height 440 cm

(The beautiful photo below was taken by Helmuts Guigo )


cargo aircraft
An225 Mriya

Courtesy: Helmuts Guigo  Creative Commons


Here is a video of this beautiful aircraft in flight

Courtesy: Simon Lowe

Antonov 124-100

This huge aircraft that comes from the same company as the one above is famous among the oversized freight transport community. The An124-100 Ruslan is a strategic heavy airlift aircraft and the An 124-100 is commercial freighter

  • Maximum Payload : 120,000 Kg
  • Maximum Volume :  800 cubic meters
  • Cargo Door : Width 640cm x Height 440 cm

The modern freight aircraft has inbuilt ceiling cranes that makes loading heavy cargo easy. Volga Dnepr and Antonov Airlines have operated a few sensational airlift with this gigantic aircraft and it is still in service



cargo aircraftCourtesy: steeleman204    Creative Commons Licence


Boeing 747 (various versions)

One of the most popular cargo aircraft and still in service, although not very fuel-efficient. Several airlines still use this and is a blessing for general cargo that is oversized. For cargo that is very long and very high (height limitation: 249 cm)  nose loading is the method used, where the nose is opened (lifted). B747-200. As there are too many variations (versions), only a few specifications will be mentioned here (B747-400F)

  • Maximum Payload : 110,000 Kg
  • Maximum Volume :  675 cubic meters
  • Cargo Door : Width 340cm x Height 312 cm


KLM Cargo Boeing 747-400ERF, PH-CKC, EHAM” by Kok Vermeulen from Rotterdam, The Netherlands – PH-CKCUploaded by Altair78. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


There are a lot more cargo aircraft in service. The ones mentioned here are a few exotic ones (for the public) . Other very common freighters are the MD-11, Boeing 777. The article is meant for the general public and not for the freight forwarding specialists.





References to cargo aircraft

Cargo aircraft – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A cargo aircraft (also known as freight aircraft, freighter, airlifter, or cargo jet) is a fixed-wing aircraft that is designed or converted for the carriage of goods, rather …

Boeing airplanes perform every role in the air cargo market, offering …

Air cargo is an integral part of world business activity and currently generates …. The airplane’s range capability will translate into significant savings for cargo …

Airbus freighter aircraft, cargo aircraft | Airbus, a leading aircraft …

Airbus builds highly capable freighters to fulfill a full range of cargo lift requirements. The A330-200F is the only new-generation cargo aircraft available today …

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