Airbus unveils sixth and final BelugaXL as it emerges from paint shop

Andrew Harker /

Airbus has unveiled the latest addition to its fleet of oversized airlifters, as the sixth BelugaXL emerged from the paint shop. This aircraft marks the final installment in the manufacturer’s renewed lineup of these specialized carriers.

The European plane maker used social media to give a preview of the upcoming transporter for large cargo operations.

What is BelugaXL?

Airbus BelugaXL is a super-sized transporter utilized by the European manufacturer for transporting aircraft components between its factories.

Affectionately nicknamed ‘Beluga’ or the smiling whale, this aircraft has a distinctive look which bears a striking resemblance to the white Arctic whale.

With a length of 63.1 meters and a height of 18.9 meters, it boasts a wingspan of 60.3 meters and a capacious cargo hold measuring 2,209 cubic meters – the largest among all civil or military aircraft currently in service.

Based on an A330-200 Freighter, the BelugaXL is a successor to the previous version of the Airbus airlifter, the BelugaST. The first BelugaXL entered service in January 2020. In total, the Airbus fleet of the newest oversize cargo airlifters will consist of six smiling whales.

It is powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 700 engines.

What cargo do Beluga aircraft carry?

The Beluga is utilized for transporting chemical tanks, space rocket components, and large aircraft parts between Airbus’ manufacturing sites, as well as cargo for various companies in different sectors.

For instance, it can carry a set of A350XWB wings or the largest fuselage section with “room to spare”, according to the company.

Airbus operates manufacturing sites in France, Germany, Spain, and the UK. While it uses other forms of transportation as well, air transport remains the preferred primary method for the aircraft manufacturer.

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How is BelugaXL different from its predecessor?

The BelugaXL boasts a 30% larger cargo capacity compared to its predecessor, the A300-600ST Beluga.

This new transporter features an elongated fuselage “bubble” section that is six meters longer and one meter wider, enabling it to transport larger aircraft sections, such as a complete wing set for the A350 XWB, between production sites and final assembly lines.

Distinguishing factors between the two Beluga versions include the dorsal fin, which connects to the vertical tailplane. In the BelugaST, this component is triangular and manufactured as a single part. However, in the BelugaXL, it is larger and composed of three parts, showcasing a distinct curve in the diagonal.

Additionally, the newer transporter showcases an updated horizontal tailplane, which is one meter larger on each side, while its auxiliary fins on the outer edges of the horizontal tailplane are also raised by one meter compared to the BelugaST.

Furthermore, the BelugaXL introduces a novel feature: ventral fins. These stabilizing fins are positioned along the bottom of the aft fuselage, serving a similar function to the dorsal fin.

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