Airbus’ Newest Plane Looks Exactly Like a Beluga Whale — and It’s Finally Ready to Hit the Skies
Airbus just released its newest aircraft into the skies, but by the looks of it, it could belong in the sea.
Airbus’ Beluga XL, which will be used to ferry airplane parts to the company’s final assembly factories in Toulouse; Hamburg, Germany and Tianjin, China, had its first operational flight on Jan. 9, according to the company.
The plane — it’s official name is the A330-700L — is the first of six such aircraft. And while it has a lot of technical specs that make it efficient for the company, its most prominent feature is its uncanny resemblance to the adorable beluga whale, enhanced by the plane’s paint job (with eyes and a smile), which Airbus employees voted for.
"This plane is, I would say, iconic for our company," Bertrand George, the head of the Beluga XL program, has told CNN Travel. "This is the workhorse for Airbus. So it is more than a plane. It is what enables Airbus to build aircraft every day."
The aircraft itself was adapted from an A330-200 Freighter with a lowered cockpit, according to Airbus. The latest iteration is the second of its kind, following the Beluga, which the company has been using since 1995, CNN reported.
The plane’s cargo bay is capable of carrying two A350 wings, while its signature nose works to improve aerodynamic efficiency, according to CNN. Before being entered into service, the plane went through more than 200 test flights over more than 700 flight hours.
Even the factory at Hawarden Airport in the U.K. where Airbus manufactures wings, has undergone renovations to accommodate the new plane: CNN reported two sets of doors have been created to fit the Beluga and the Beluga XL, while Airbus has created blast fences to redirect the planes’ high-energy exhaust and installed new turn pads so it can turn around on the relatively short runway.
The additional Beluga XL aircraft, which stand at 63 meters long, will be introduced between this year and 2023, according to Airbus.