The Airbus Beluga XL took its first flight on Thursday over southwest France. The flight is part of the long safety testing process that the aircraft must go through before flying commercially. The maiden flight was operated by F-WBXL.

The Beluga XL is a transport aircraft for Airbus and is mainly used to transport wings from factories to three final assembly lines around Europe. The aircraft can, however, be used to move other aircraft parts as well. The aircraft will fly parts from 11 locations to the final assembly lines.

The aircraft offers 30% more capacity than the original Belugas and can carry a load of 110,000 lbs, which is six tons heavier than its predecessor. The Beluga XL can take off with a maximum load of 227 tons of cargo.

Besides the increased capacity, notable changes to the Beluga XL include a lowered cockpit, a wider cargo bay, and a distinctive tail. The plane is powered by Rolls Royce Trent 700 engines.

The Beluga XL is based on the A330-200 aircraft. Current Beluga planes are based on the A300.

Airbus originally decided to launch the Beluga XL in 2014 in reaction to greater transport requirements and the aging of the current fleet. The current Beluga fleet has been in service since 1994; before then, Airbus used modified Boeing Stratocruisers to transport parts.

One of the most noticeable features of the aircraft is its paint scheme. The Beluga XL is painted to resemble a whale. The final design was voted on out of six proposals by over 20,000 Airbus employees.

“The need for the new Beluga comes with the increase in production rates and to get extra capacity on top of this fleet of five aircrafts,” Stephane Gosselin, head of Airbus Transport International said. “So initially there will be a mixed fleet use of both new Beluga and old Beluga. And then the second need was as well to anticipate replacement of an aging fleet.”

This Beluga XL, the first of five of its type, is set to enter service for Airbus in 2019. Before flying commercially, however, it needs to go through over 600 hours of flight and ground testing over ten months.

All images by Airbus unless otherwise noted

Categories: Pilot and Plane