The new Airbus BelugaXL has made its first operational flight, five years after the programme’s launch in November 2014, which means that its adorable, smiley-faced whale-like appearance has now entered service.

The Beluga XL in flight
The new Airbus BelugaXL has made its first operational flight © S. Ramadier

You won't be able to travel in the cute plane unfortunately as it's a super-transporter cargo plane rather than a passenger one. It may look sweet but it's huge, and it has a cross-section that is eight metres wide. Airbus is headquartered in The Netherlands, and the Beluga XL will provide it with 30% extra transport capacity. Its task will be to fly aircraft components between production sites in Europe and the final Airbus assembly lines in Toulouse, Hamburg and Tianjin.

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The aircraft is powered by a pair of Rolls-Royce Trent 700 engines © J. V. Reymondon

With regard to its appearance, the plane's livery was one of six choices submitted to Airbus employees through a poll. It won because 40% of the 20,000 people polled voted in favour of its face and whimsical design. It is not the only plane to look like a big fish however, as the Embraer plane resembles a shark. At 63m long, the enormous cargo bay is large enough to carry two A350 wings at a time, compared to the BelugaST, which can only carry one. It has an upward-opening forward hatch so that completed aircraft wings, fuselage sections and other components can slide in and out with ease.

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The Airbus BelugaXL is a super-transporter cargo plane © Airbus

The first of six BelugaXLs to enter service had to complete more than 200 flight tests, clocking over 700 hours of flight testing before it entered service this month. Five of the aircraft will be built by 2023, and they will operate from 11 destinations and their bulbous, whale-like nose will improve their aerodynamic efficiency. The BelugaXL is powered by two Rolls-Royce Trent 700 engines, and with a maximum payload of 51 tonnes, it has a range of 4000km.

For further information on the Airbus BelugaXL, please see here.

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