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A giant Airbus plane gets even bigger

Airbus has nearly finished building the BelugaXL, an enormous aircraft that can carry full airplane wings between the company's factories.

Airbus

It's one of the more curious aircraft in the sky, but the Airbus BelugaST is a vital link in the production of Airbus commercial airliners.

Able to swallow fuselages and entire wings of the company's other planes, the Beluga flies parts between Airbus' European factories and its final assembly plants in Hamburg, Germany, and Toulouse, France. It already resembles a bloated termite queen, but this year it's growing even larger with the next-generation BelugaXL.

belugaxl-nose-section-delivery

It's a flying nesting doll: A BelugaST delivers the first nose section of its replacement aircraft, the BelguaXL. 

Airbus

Airbus tweeted Thursday that it had installed engines on the first BelugaXL in preparation for its flight this summer. The new aircraft (named after the beluga whale, by the way, and not the type of sturgeon) is 20 feet longer than the BelugaST and 3 feet wider. It can accommodate an additional 6 tons in payload.

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That bigger capacity (53 tons) will let the BelugaXL fit two Airbus A350 wings (the BelugaST can fit just one) for transport from Wales, where they're built, to Toulouse. It also will carry parts for the Airbus A320 and A330 aircraft families and tall sections for the similarly enormous A380. (Too big to fit in any aircraft, the A380's fuselage and wings are transported by sea and land.)

Like its predecessor, the BelugaXL's design is derived from an older aircraft, in this case the A330. The first BelugaXL rolled out of the Toulouse factory in January, but after a BelugaST had flown the nose section to France. 

As a pan-European company, Airbus has long depended on big airplanes as shuttles. Before the BelugaST, it used the Aero Spacelines Super Guppy to ferry sections of its first airliner, the A300. 

Back in the US, the Boeing Dreamlifter, an enlarged 747, flies parts of the 787 Dreamliner to the company's final assembly plants in Washington state and Charleston, South Carolina.

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