One of the most anticipated planes in travel, the Airbus Beluga XL, has finally entered service after making its first operational flight on January 9, 2020.
The Beluga XL promises to be one of the largest planes in use. Though not available for passenger travel, the Beluga XL will help shape the construction of many of the commercial passenger planes that will be seen in the future.
The cargo plane is designed by Airbus to fly its aircraft components between its European production sites and final assembly lines in Toulouse, France; Hamburg, Germany; and Tianjin, China. It is the successor of the Airbus A300-600ST, also known as Beluga, which has been in operation since 1995.
Its design was adapted from an A330 airliner. Airbus engineers lowered the flight deck and grafted a large cargo bay onto the fuselage to create the aircraft’s distinctive shape. Through an upward-opening forward hatch on the “bubble,” completed aircraft wings, fuselage sections and other components easily slide in and out.
The plane’s unique shape has earned it the nickname “the flying whale” due to its strong resemblance to the Arctic beluga whale. To emphasize the resemblance, the aircraft sports a friendly, smiling face that was chosen by Airbus staff.
However, the design is as functional as it is adorable; the huge cargo bay is large enough to carry two A350 wings at a time whereas the old Beluga could only transport one. The whale-like nose improves the craft’s aerodynamic efficiency.
According to Bertrand George, head of the Beluga XL program, despite the plane’s unusual appearance, “for the pilots this is really an A330. Our pilots will be trained on the A330 and then they will get a Delta qualification to enable them to fly the Beluga XL.”
The Beluga XL is powered by two Rolls-Royce Trent 700 engines, which are also used on the A330, as are the wings.
Airbus manufactures its wings in a large factory at Hawarden Airport in the U.K., which has undergone special modifications for the arrival of the Beluga XL. The site has created two sets of doors for the Beluga Line Station in order to fit both the Beluga and the Beluga XL.
Airbus also has risen the landing strip, erected blast fences and installed new turn pads for when the Beluga XL turns around on Hawarden’s relatively short runway of around 1,600 meters.
“This plane is, I would say, iconic for our company,” George stated. “This is the workhorse for Airbus. So it is more than a plane. It is what enables Airbus to build aircraft every day.”
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