So, what was the purpose of this test flight? Airbus says the test flight was performed as part of the BelugaXL’s certification process. In order for Airbus to sell the BelugaXL, it must receive certification from the appropriate flight and aviation agencies. Airbus’s recent flight test over Ireland involved rejected take-offs (RTOs) as well as crosswind controls. The former involves stopping or aborting take-offs, whereas the latter involves adjusting the angle of an aircraft to compensate for wind gusts (e.g. veering an aircraft east when wind is blowing west). During the recent flight test, Airbus performed both RTOs and crosswind controls for the BelugaXL.
As shown in the photo here, the BelugaXL receives its name from its whale-like design. Airbus launched the BelugaXL project back in 2014 to compete with other cargo transport jets like the Boeing C-17 and Antonov An-124. At the time, Airbus already had Beluga. However, the aerospace manufacturing company was struggling to convince airlines and organizations to purchase its cargo transport jets over its competitors’. As a result, Airbus sought to develop a new and improved Beluga, the Beluga XL.
According to Airbus, the BelugaXL offers a 30% higher cargo capacity than the original Beluga design. Furthermore, it’s able to lift payloads that are 6 tons heavier than the original Beluga design, making it an attractive transport cargo jet for airlines.
When speaking about the BelugaXL, Airbus’s Bertrand George said the following: “Years from now, we could see situations such as further rate increases for our jetliners or may encounter one of the airlifters being grounded, which would make this ‘extra’ sixth aircraft an essential part of our transport network.”
Even on the heels of the BelugaXL being launched, the original Beluga STs aren’t expected to retire anytime soon. On the contrary, Airbus says it’s very likely that airlines will continue using them for another 20 years, assuming they are properly serviced.
Specifications for the BelugaXL include a payload capacity of over 111,000 pounds, length of 207 feet, wingspan of 197 feet, cargo hold of 78,000 cubic feet, cruise speed of 485 miles per hour, range of 2,3000 nautical miles, service ceiling of 35,000 feet. The BelugaXL is based on Airbus’s existing A330 design.
Airbus hasn’t announced an official release date for the BelugaXL, though it’s expected to happen sometime this year.