The plane only a mother could love, the whale-like BelugaXL cargo aircraft, has entered service at Airbus.
The new transport plane gives Airbus a 30 percent boost in carrying capacity to support the ramp-up of the company’s commercial aircraft programs.
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The aircraft made its first operational flight on January 9 after it was certified in November 2019 following 700 flight hours of testing and 200 flight tests.
It is the first of six BelugaXLs that will work alongside the smaller BelugaSTs to ferry aircraft parts between 11 destinations in Europe. The remainder of the new aircraft will be added between now and 2023.
At 63 metres long and eight metres wide, the BelugaXL has the largest cargo bay cross-section of all existing cargo aircraft worldwide.
It can carry two A350 XWB wings, compared to one on the BelugaST, and has a maximum payload of 51 tonnes with a range of 4,000km (2200nm).
The cargo aircraft is based on an A330-200 Freighter, enabling the re-use of existing components and equipment, and is powered by Rolls Royce Trent 700 engines.
The plane’s lowered cockpit, the cargo bay structure and the rear-end and tail were newly developed jointly with partners, giving the aircraft its distinctive look.
It also sports a cheerful smile thanks to a vote by 20,000 Airbus employees.
Forty percent of those voting opted for the smiley Beluga whale livery over five other options.
Airbus has been using ungainly planes to transport aircraft components since the 1970s when it began operating a modified Boeing Stratocruiser from the 1940s known as the Super Guppy.
It added two more Super Guppies – so named for their resemblance to a pregnant guppy – to its initial fleet of two in the 1980s.
The first Beluga was based on the A300 and initially flew in 1994. The A300-600ST had a maximum payload of 47 tonnes and a freight compartment that was 7.31m (24 ft) in diameter and 37.7 m (124 ft) long.
Airbus built five of the planes, which allowed it to cut production transport times and have now provided up to 20 years of reliable service.
It is operated by a three-member crew comprising two pilots and a loadmaster and has been used to transport loads as diverse as satellites and paintings.
The decision to build a bigger, better Beluga was taken in November 2014, to address transport requirements and ramp-up capacity beyond 2019.