Once more unto the breach, dear friends.
The BelugaXL,whale of an aircraft, completed its first flight Thursday, soaring above southern France in a four-hour round trip from the company’s headquarters in Toulouse.
Completed in April, the prototype BelugaXL is the first in a new generation of freighters that will replace the exiting BelugaST. Like its predecessor, the BelugaXL can swallow entire fuselage sections and wings of smaller Airbus airliners from factories in Germany and the UK and carry them to final assembly in Toulouse.
Wearing an appropriately whale-themed paint job, the BelugaXL has a payload of 53 tons (6 more tons than the BelugaST), which will let it carry twowings and the giant tail for the . It can even fit the fuselage section for the , the aircraft on which the its bloated profile is based.
After Thursday’s flight, the BelugaXL will continue with 600 hours of test flights over the next 10 months. Airbus predicts it’ll enter service in 2019.