With the first flight of the new BelugaXL getting ever closer I take a look back at my first glimpse of the mighty creature back in March this year - unfortunately before this new website went live!
This summer a new sight will be seen in the skies over Toulouse, although this sight is one you will find difficult to miss.
Ever since the venerable SuperGuppy was retired from its role of transporting various pieces of Airbus aircraft around the various plants in Europe Airbus has utilised modified A300-600 aircraft.
The A300-600ST Beluga (so named as it somewhat resembled a Beluga whale) is a pretty striking aircraft to say the least and still turns heads wherever it goes.
However with a ramp up in production of many of the airbus offerings, particularly the A350 these aircraft are now, believe it or not, getting to be a little small!
Airbus has again looked in house for a solution to the issue and on a Tuesday back in March I got my first glimpse of the replacement, the BelugaXL, on a visit to the production line in a hangar at the Toulouse plant once used to stress test previous Airbus aircraft.
Based on the A330-200 freighter, which already has a strengthened floor for cargo use, the BelugaXL is bigger in every way meaning each journey can now carry a greater payload and going back to the A350 each BelugaXL can now carry both wings whereas its predecessor could only carry one.
The basis of the design however is very similar to the original with a significant use of existing components and equipment, a lowered cockpit, cargo bay structure, and a redesigned rear and tail section.
Assuming everything goes to plan the aircraft are due to enter service in 2019 and will operate alongside the existing fleet of ST’s. However once the fifth one is delivered in 2022 then BelugaST’s will be withdrawn from use.
That however will not necessarily be the end for these mighty beasts as they will still be airworthy and have many more years life left in them and consequently will be offered for sale. What a sight it would be to see a bright yellow DHL version or perhaps the purple of FedEx. Time will tell.
A quick update as the Beluga XL is now in the Heavy Ground test phase prior to an expected summer first flight.