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article imageAirbus has a whale of a plane — BelugaXL makes its maiden flight

By Karen Graham     Jul 20, 2018 in Technology
Toulouse - Looking like a happy whale, the Airbus BelugaXL took off on its maiden flight on Thursday, creating a unique sight as the cargo jet with the bulbous upper half rolled down the runway.
Featuring one of the most voluminous cargo holds of any civil or military aircraft flying today, Airbus completed the maiden flight of its massive new BelugaXL transport aircraft - debuting the plane in front of a crowd of more than 10,000 near the company’s headquarters in Toulouse, France.
The oddly-shaped aircraft, resembling a beluga whale is one of five Airbus expects to build by 2023. The new BelugaXL will replace Airbus's BelugaST models used to shuttle large aircraft components between its manufacturing facilities in Europe.
A whale of a cargo plane!
A whale of a cargo plane!
Airbus
The current generation A300-600ST Belugas have been in service for two decades. According to Business Insider, Airbus decided in 2014 to build the XL based on greater transport and capacity requirements the company anticipates beyond 2019.
The BelugaXL is based on the Airbus A330-200F freighter. But it's 20-feet longer and its cargo compartment is more than three feet wider than its predecessor, the BelugaST. It can also carry as much as 110,000 lbs of cargo. Now that it has made its maiden flight, it will undergo testing for 10 months before being put into service next year.
To load cargo, the Beluga's enormous "forehead" (in keeping with the whale metaphor) hinges open, revealing a cavernous opening above the cockpit — which sits below the cargo floor. The plane can take off with a total weight of 227 tons of cargo. And even with a load of more than 50 tons, the gargantuan plane's maximum range is 4,000 kilometers (about 2,485 miles).
National Public Radio reports that on Thursday, the plane took off from France's Toulouse-Blagnac Airport on a four-hour flight and returned to the same spot, performing a low pass and tilting its wings "hello" on its way back to the runway.
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