Airbus completes first test flight of Beluga XL ‘flying whale’

FRANCE — Airbus recently made a big splash with its design for the latest version of its Beluga transport airplane, and now the company reports the first of five aircraft has successfully finished its first test flight.

The new BelugaXL (Airbus A330-700L) landed at Toulouse-Blagnac Airport, France, at 2:41 p.m. local time on Thursday after a flight of four hours and 11 minutes.

Airbus says the BelugaXL will undergo some 600 hours of flight tests over 10 months before entering expected service in 2019.

The design is certainly eye-catching: Its livery includes a whale-style nose cone, sparkling blue eyes and a smiling mouth.

When it introduced the design,¬†Airbus tweeted an image¬†of its super-sized transporter jet’s makeover along with the caption, “Whale hello there! Introducing the new BelugaXL dressed up in its livery for the first time”!

The smiling whale design was chosen by Airbus staff following a poll in which 20,000 employees were given six options and asked to choose their favorite. With 40% of the vote, it was the clear winner.

Whale of the skies

It’s based on the A330-200 airliner, which became known as the “Beluga” because of its resemblance to the white Arctic whale.

The airplanes carry parts for all of Airbus’ planes from manufacturing sites across Europe to the final assembly facilities in either Toulouse, Hamburg or Tianjin.

The original planes have been in service since 1994; however, Airbus launched a program to build a new version with similar modifications and dimensions in 2014.

“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.

Larger capacity

“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.”

The original Beluga can carry the wings of an A340 airliner or a fuselage section for the A350, but isn’t large enough to transport many A380 super jumbo parts.

However, the BelugaXL measures 6 meters longer and 1 meter wider, offering 30% more capacity.

It can also lift a capacity six tons heavier than the present model. This means the new jet will be able to hold both wings for the A350, while the Beluga can only carry one at a time.