'Beluga whale' takes to the skies for the first time

The jury is still out on whether pigs can fly, but Airbus' new "whale in the sky" certainly can.

With a distinctive bulbous nose shaped like that of the beluga whale's head, the Beluga XL cargo plane took off from Blagnac, in the south of France, on Thursday morning for its maiden flight before completing a four-hour round trip.

The new plane, designed to move large aircraft components, has an extra 30 per cent capacity compared with the existing Beluga planes that it will replace. The new plane is also 6m longer and nearly 1m wider, reported The New York Post.

The extra space in the "bubble section" and the new lowered cockpit - which makes space for a main deck with direct cargo loading capabilities - has helped to give the plane a unique appearance.

In a nod to its whale-like shape, French aircraft giant Airbus opted to paint a whale's mouth and eyes on the plane.

With a capacity of nearly 60 tonnes, the aircraft is powered by two Rolls-Royce Trent 700 Turbofan engines.

There are plans to put five of the whale-shaped planes into service.


PHOTO: REUTERS

About 10,000 people, mostly Airbus employees and subcontractors, applauded as the plane took off, and were on hand to greet the pilots when the plane landed after its maiden flight ended.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2018, with the headline ''Beluga whale' takes to the skies for the first time'. Print Edition | Subscribe