A plane branded a 'whale in the sky' made its maiden voyage as the Airbus Beluga XL. It departed Toulouse on Thursday. The aircraft took to the skies as part of a 10-month test to see if the jet will be worthy of entering passenger service.
Airbus’s BelugaXL aircraft is named after the Arctic whale that it resembles, and has been painted in a special Beluga whale-inspired design including whale-inspired eyes and an enthusiastic grin.
The aeronautics company decided to build the largest Beluga to date to increase capacity requirements for the company beyond 2019.
The smiling whale design was chosen by staff following a poll in which 20,000 employees were given six options and asked to choose their favourite. With 40% of the vote, it was the clear winner.
The aircraft is based on the A330-200 freighter while being powered by two Rolls-Royce Trent 700 high bypass turbofan aircraft engines.
The new design will be able to carry two Airbus A350 wings instead of just the one as with the current Beluga.
It will also be able to transport sections of the double-decker A380 — currently the world’s largest passenger plane.
The BelugaXL is six metres longer and one metre wider than Airbus’s existing fleet of five Beluga ST aircraft.
The front of the 184-foot long Beluga opens up, allowing cargo to be loaded into the cavernous “bubble” space.
The plane’s cockpit is placed lower than usual in order to avoid the need to disconnect electrical, hydraulic, and flight control systems every time cargo is loaded and unloaded.
Compared to the current Beluga, the new XL version can take six tons of extra cargo, increasing the limit to 53 tons.
It’s also 20 feet longer and 3 feet wider than its predecessor, allowing Airbus to make further efficiency improvements when it comes to moving large airplane parts.