First Flight For BelugaXL

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The first of a fleet of five BelugaXL aircraft in development by Airbus flew for the first time last week, in France, the company has announced. The flight lasted four hours and 11 minutes, with two pilots and a flight engineer on board. Based on an A330-200 Freighter, the unusual aircraft is designed to be flown only by Airbus, to transport large aircraft components between the company’s 11 production sites. It’s powered by two Rolls-Royce Trent 700 engines. The lowered cockpit, the cargo bay structure and the rear end and tail were developed jointly with suppliers, giving the aircraft its distinctive look. The XL program launched in 2014 to ensure Airbus would have the transport capacity needed for its A350 XWB production.

The XL cabin is about three feet wider and 21 feet longer than the original Beluga’s, and can carry 12 percent more payload. By 2023, the XL will replace the current fleet of Belugas, which first launched in 1996. Besides fulfilling Airbus’s freight needs, the current fleet has been used to transport a variety of bulky items for space programs in both Europe and the U.S. In 2009, a Beluga conveyed the Tranquility module of the International Space Station from Italy to the Kennedy Space Center, in Florida. In 2005, a Beluga flew humanitarian aid from Europe to help victims of Hurricane Katrina on the U.S. Gulf Coast. The BelugaXL will undergo about 600 hours of flight test over the next 10 months, with type certification and entry into service expected late in 2019.