An enlarged version of Airbus SE’s famously bulbous Beluga wing transporter is set to make its debut flight in the middle of the year after the first plane was rolled off the assembly line.
The aircraft, named for its resemblance to the dome-headed, hunch-backed white whale of the Arctic, is awaiting the installation of its two engines before starting ground tests, with work on a second underway, Airbus said Tuesday.
The Beluga XL will feature the same low-slung cockpit as the original version developed two decades ago from the A300 model, allowing the front of the plane above it to hinge open, but will be based on Airbus’s A330 jet, making it six metres (20 feet) longer and a meter wider so that the payload capacity will be six metric tons (13,200 pounds) greater.
The five planes due to be built will shuttle between the company’s base in Toulouse, France, and sites including Broughton in Wales, where they’ll be able to collect both wings for the newest A350 wide-body, rather than just one using the current model.
The first jet will appear even more whale-like, sporting what Airbus calls a “supersized smile” across its forward fuselage.