The Beluga XL finally comes into active service

(CNN) – It's finally here.

One of the aircraft, the most highly anticipated aircraft, the Airbus Beluga XL, has entered full service, having made its first operating flight on January 9, 2020.

At a time when jumbo passenger aircraft like the Airbus A380 and Boeing 747 are on the road, the Beluga XL – the first of six – will be one of the biggest beasts in the sky.
You won't be able to travel in this, but Beluga will play a crucial part in the construction of many of the commercial passenger airplanes that we will all be flying over the next few decades.

The supermarket cargo plane was designed by Airbus to fly its aircraft between production plants in Europe and assembly lines in Toulouse, France. Hamburg, Germany. and Tianjin, China.

Modified A330

The Beluga XL is the successor to the Beluga, or Airbus A300-600ST, operating since 1995.

Its design was adapted from an A330 aircraft, with Airbus engineers descending the cockpit and injecting a huge cargo bay into the spindle to create its distinctive shape.

Through an upward upward bounce on the "bubble", the wings of the aircraft, the body parts and other components were easily slipped in and out.

The XL bubble is six meters longer and one meter wider than the original, which means its cross section is an impressive eight meters wide.

BelugaXL was launched, providing Airbus with an additional 30% capacity to support the continued increase in commercial aircraft production.

The BelugaXL was launched in January 2020.

S. Ramadier / Airbus

Putting 'fun' into operation

The plane's distinctive bulbous shape has earned it the nickname "the flying whale". This is because of its strong resemblance to the white-yellow mammal that lives in the Arctic, the beluga.

The image of the XL, with a light-colored, smiling face, is based on this. The fantastic design was selected by Airbus staff after a survey in which 20,000 employees received six choices and asked to choose their favorite. With 40% of the vote, it was the clear winner.

"We used to say that in Toulouse or Hamburg, kids recognize Beluga," Bertrand George, head of the Beluga XL program, told CNN Travel in 2019. "They love this very special plane."

However, the design is functional as well as cute. The huge luggage compartment is large enough to carry two A350 wings at a time (the old Beluga can carry only one) and the nose whale improves the aerodynamic performance of the boat.

Nature finally perfected the beluga whale and, Grosse explains, "flying in the air is a bit like swimming in the sea."

Pilot training

So how does one go about directing a machine like this through the sky? Well, says George, despite the unusual appearance of the plane, "for pilots this is really an A330. Our pilots will be trained on the A330 and then get a Delta qualification to allow them to fly the Beluga XL."

Although you may think the aircraft would be running slower, "the vehicle is about the same," says George. "What really changes is the behavior of the aircraft at the rear, at the bottom of the cargo bay.

"That's why we've raised the vertical tail level by more than two meters to get it out of the flow behind the cargo bay and we also have the specific acceleration at the horizontal tail level to give the aircraft stability."

The Beluga XL is powered by two Rolls-Royce Trent 700 engines, which, like their wings, are also used on the A330.

Preparations for a very special guest

Airbus manufactures its wings in a large factory at Hawarden Airport in the United Kingdom.

The installation has undergone special modifications for the arrival of the Beluga XL, such as the creation of two sets of doors for the Beluga Line Station – one to fit the Beluga XL and one to fit the Beluga XL.

Airbus also returned to the landing strip, mounted blast fences (to safely redirect high-power engine exhaust) and installed a new turning bridge – necessary when the Beluga XL revolves around the relatively short 1,600-meter Hawarden runway.

"This plane is, I would say, virtual for our company," George told CNN Travel. "This is Airbus's job, so it's more than just an airplane, which allows Airbus to build aircraft every day."