Three’s A Crowd: Airbus’ 3rd BelugaXL Leaves The Paint Shop


Airbus announced this week that the third of its super transporter cargo planes, the BelugaXL, has rolled out of its paint shop in Toulouse. The plane, the third out of six, is expected to join service early in 2021.

The third BelugaXL should enter service early in 2021. Photo: Getty Images

Airbus’ new BelugaXL receives its smiley face

Airbus announced on its social media accounts that the third of its BelugaXL team has had its livery completed. The aircraft, which was seen leaving the hanger in Toulouse in May, has now emerged, complete with the smiley face of a beluga whale.

The super-size transporter plane is the successor to the Beluga, which has been in operation since 1995. Based on an A330-200 freighter, it is powered by Rolls Royce Trent 700 engines.
The first operational flight of the BelugaXL took place on January 9th of this year, following certification by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in November 2019. The plane was awarded the certification after completing more than 200 flight tests, clocking over 700 flight hours.
The decision to build a bigger, better Beluga, the BelugaXL, was made in November 2014. The bigger aircraft was to enable Airbus to ramp-up its capacity requirement beyond 2019.
The unique shape of the aircraft makes it more efficient for transporting aircraft parts. Photo: Getty Images

Aircraft design

The BelugaXL is 63 meters long and a whopping 8.8 meters wide, giving it the largest cargo bay cross-section of all existing cargo aircraft across the world. Airbus engineers have lowered the flight deck and attached a huge cargo bay onto the fuselage, which gives it the characteristic shape from which it got its name. The design is functional as well as cute. The whale-like nose improves the plane’s aerodynamic efficiency.
The primary role of the giant aircraft is to transport aircraft parts and components around Airbus’ production chain. Airbus has a decentralized production structure with aircraft parts being made in different countries. For example, wings are made in the UK, and the fuselage sections are produced in Germany and France.
The BelugaXL is used to fly these parts to Airbus’ assembly plants in Toulouse, France and Hamburg, Germany. The giant aircraft has 30% more capacity than the original Beluga. This means that it will be able to transport two A350 XWB wings instead of one, making it much more efficient.
The giant bubble that gives the BelugaXL its distinctive shape contains an upward-opening forward hatch that enables completed aircraft wings, fuselage sections, and other components to be easily taken in and out horizontally. The XL’s bubble is six meters longer and one meter wider than the bubble found on the original Beluga aircraft.
BelugaXL Livery
The BelugaXL design was chosen in a vote by Airbus employees. Photo: Dylan Agbagni via Wikimedia Commons

Livery design

The Beluga aircraft gets its name from the whale to which it resembles. So much so that the BelugaXL is even painted to look like the iconic sea creature, but why did Airbus decide to paint the plane this way?

The livery was, in fact, chosen by a vote of Airbus employees. In the poll, 20,000 staff were given the choice of six livery options, and the smiley face of the beluga whale won with 40% of the vote.

What do you think of the BelugaXL? Let us know in the comments.