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First of five second-generation Belugas takes maiden flight in the skies above Toulouse

First of five second-generation Belugas takes maiden flight in the skies above Toulouse

The first of five new A300-600ST Airbus transport aeroplanes lifted off the runway at Toulouse in France this week Thursday. Construction of this specific transporter started at the end of 2016 and it took more than a year to complete. As the other four siblings are completed, they will gradually replace the existing fleet of five transporters.

Aptly named the Beluga, the first generation has served the Airbus family for about 20 years. These giant planes, based on the A330-200 freighter, transport large components across Europe between Airbus’ various production facilities. The Belugas also play a key role in the assembly of the A380 behemoth, helping to bring its more than 4 million parts together for final assembly.

Branded as the BelugaXL, the second generation transporter can carry two wings of the extra widebody A350 whereas the first generation Beluga could carry only one. The new Beluga is more than 63 metres long, stands nearly 20 metres tall, has a wingspan of just over 60 metres and can load cargoes up to 8.8 metres wide. The Belugas that are now in service have transported components for all Airbus models including its military transport aeroplane of which the whole fuselage fits into the Beluga’s belly.

On its maiden flight, the first BelugaXL was piloted by Captain Christophe Cail, assisted by Captain Bernardo Saez-Benito Hernandez and flight engineer, Jean Michel Pin. Monitoring the aircraft’s systems and real-time performance at the flight-test engineering station, were Laurent Lapierre and Philippe Foucault. The aeroplane landed 4 hours and 11 minutes later.

Following the first flight, the BelugaXL will undergo some 600 hours of flight test over 10 months to achieve Type Certification and entry into service later in 2019.

The BelugaXL programme was launched in November 2014 to address Airbus’ transport capacity requirements in view of the A350 XWB ramp-up and Single-Aisle production rate increases. The four others will be built between 2019 and 2023.

The BelugaXL is powered by Rolls Royce Trent 700 engines. The lowered cockpit, the cargo bay structure and the rear-end and tail were newly developed jointly with suppliers, giving the new generation its distinctive look.


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SADC Correspondent

SADC correspondents are independent contributors whose work covers regional issues of southern Africa outside the immediate Namibian ambit. Ed.