The Strange-Looking Airbus BelugaXL Completes Its Maiden Flight
Matthew Greenwood posted on August 06, 2018 |
The Airbus BelugaXL. (Image courtesy of Airbus.)
The Airbus BelugaXL. (Image courtesy of Airbus.)

Looking very much like a flying whale, the Airbus BelugaXL recently completed its maiden voyage—a four-hour, 11-minute flight that ended at Toulouse-Blagnac airport in France on July 19.

The BelugaXL looks as if the top section of an A330-200 freighter has been cut off and replaced by an added bubble-shaped fuselage. The aircraft also features an oversized tail section with a vertical fin with twin horizontal stabilizers. The lowered cockpit, the cargo bay structure and the modified tail give the aircraft its distinctive appearance. The paint job features big whale eyes and a wide smile.

To load cargo, the plane's "forehead" hinges open upwards, revealing a cavernous opening above the cockpit, which is located below the cargo floor. The cargo bay has a semiautomated handling system and climate control for sensitive payloads such as satellites. According to Airbus, the aircraft has one of the most voluminous cargo holds of any civil or military aircraft flying today.

The BelugaXL is as long as two blue whales, is as tall as a three-floor office building, and can carry a maximum payload of 51 tons—or seven elephants (or two fully built A350 XWB wings). Two Rolls-Royce Trent 700 engines power the plane, which is capable of taking off with a total weight of 227 tons and transporting the cargo for nearly 2,500 miles.

The BelugaXL is expected to be a workhorse for Airbus, flying an estimated 6.5 million kilometers a year, or 17 one-way trips to the moon.

The jet will address growing demands for aircraft component transport that have arisen from the company’s ramping up of the A350 XWB widebody aircraft and increased production of its single-aisle commercial jets. The new Beluga will be able to transport entire fuselage sections, wings and tails for the single-aisle A320 and wide body A330 families, along with parts for the A350 XWB. These components will be flown from 11 different production sites to the company’s final assembly lines in Toulouse, France, and Hamburg, Germany.

Five BelugaXLs will be built between 2019 and 2023 to gradually replace the five BelugaSTs currently in service. The ST model is based on the smaller A300-600ST aircraft that is no longer in production. Airbus determined that the BelugaST was insufficient for its future needs and in 2014 started development of the BelugaXL.

Following its successful first flight, the BelugaXL will undergo about 600 hours of flight testing over the next 10 months to achieve Type Certification. Once certified, the aircraft will enter into service later in 2019.

Read more about future trends in aviation at Can We Manufacture 37,000 New Aircraft Over the Next 20 Years?

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