New Transporter Aircraft Looks Like a Whale, With Bulging Forehead and Open Mouth

A gigantic new aircraft looks like an Arctic whale and could soon be used to transport airplane parts around the world.

The Airbus Beluga XL looks like the creature for which it is named, down to the beluga whale’s signature bulging forehead, the section of the plane above the cockpit. It is designed to move the biggest aircraft parts after they're built around the world, when they must be transported to final manufacturing locations.

Wings and fuselages, the main sections of the airplane that hold crew, passengers and cargo, are among those crucial parts.

The new aircraft is taking the place of its transporting predecessor, the Beluga ST—it’s about 20 feet longer and 3 feet wider, and can carry about 12,000 more pounds.

Structurally_complete_Airbus_BelugaXL_No1_5 Airbus’ new Beluga XL transporter bulges like a beluga whale and can carry more aircraft parts. Airbus

Its wingspan is almost 200 feet across.

“We can carry more,” Bertrand George, head of the Beluga XL program, told BBC News. “We can carry two wings at a time, rather than one. So it means … we double the productivity of the aircraft.”

It has an enormous cargo door at the front of the plane that has the look of a whale’s mouth.

The first Beluga XL was put together earlier this year. Airbus announced its airframe’s completion in January, saying it would be ready for flying in the middle of the year, after its jet engines are added and it goes through testing. It is expected to be the start of a whole fleet.

Those “transporter” planes will carry aircraft parts from where they are manufactured around Europe to locations in Spain, Germany and France, where planes in their final stages of production are put together.

According to BBC News, Airbus has a goal of making five of the transporters for its “pod” and phasing out the previous generation of Belugas over the next several years.