With a livery that reflects its namesake, the first of Airbus' five BelugaXL heavy transport aircraft completed its maiden flight today at Toulouse-Blagnac, France. At 2:21 pm CEST, the three-story tall airplane touched down after finishing its first four hours and eleven minutes in the air with Captain Christophe Cail, Co-Pilot Bernardo Saez-Benito Hernandez and Test-Flight Engineer Jean Michel Pin at the controls.

In an industry where the boring laws of aerodynamics makes one commercial aircraft look pretty much like the next, the BelugaXL stands out. With its bulbous cargo area and cetacean-like nose, it's designed to ferry large aircraft components between 11 Airbus locations to support production of the Airbus 350 XWB and other models.

Development of the BelugaXL began in November 2014 when it was found that the existing fleet of BelugaST aircraft was insufficient for future needs. With an architecture based on the Airbus A330-200 Freighter, the BelugaXL is 63.1 m (207 ft) long with a wingspan of 60.3 m (198 ft). It's powered by a pair of Rolls Royce Trent 700 engines and its 8.8 m (29 ft) fuselage is large enough to handle 53 tonne (117,000 lb) of cargo – the equivalent of seven full-grown elephants or two fully built 350 XWB wings.

In addition, the BelugaXL is noted for its newly-developed lowered cockpit, which has the same layout as the Airbus A300-600s and A310s to accommodate the two pilots and loadmaster. The redesigned cargo bay has a semi-automated handling system and climate control for sensitive payloads, like satellites or paintings.

Airbus says that the BelugaXL is scheduled to complete 600 hours of flight testing in the next 10 months before getting its Type Certification. It's slated to enter service in the latter half of next year and the five aircraft in the fleet will work alongside the BelugaST, which will be gradually retired by 2025.

Check out the BelugaXL in more detail in the following video.

Source: Airbus

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