• The Airbus Beluga cargo plane is tasked with transporting large sections of Airbus aircraft for final assembly.
  • The current fleet of five Airbus A300-600ST Belugas has been in service for 20 years.
  • Recently, Airbus introduced a larger, next-generation Beluga called the BelugaXL.
  • The BelugaXL is based on the Airbus A330-200 freighter and is expected to enter service in 2019.

Airbus and its many subsidiaries have come up with some wonderfully ambitious and interesting aircraft over the years. The double-decker A380 superjumbo is one example that comes to mind. 

But the plane that really stands out is the Airbus Beluga. It's arguably one of the weirdest looking aircraft in the world. 

The Beluga is a cargo plane designed to transport major sections of Airbus planes to its assembly plants in Toulouse, France and Hamburg, Germany from suppliers around Europe. 

And by major sections, I mean pieces as large as the middle and rear fuselage of an Airbus A320 airliner or the wing of an A350 widebody. 

In all fairness, Airbus also uses a fleet of barges and trucks to move components around Europe. 

Recently, Airbus unveiled a new generation of its bulbous cargo planes called the BelugaXL. 

It will take over for the current generation A300-600ST Beluga that has been in service for two decades. 

The Beluga derives its name from the large aquatic mammal to which it bears a striking resemblance. In fact, the new BelugaXL is even painted to look like the animal. 

According to Airbus, it decided to build the BelugaXL in November 2014 as a response to the greater transport and capacity requirements the company expects in the years beyond 2019. 

Since it's based on the Airbus A330-200F freighter, the BelugaXL is larger, with greater cargo capacity, and is expected to deliver superior performance than its predecessor.

Here's a closer look at the Airbus Beluga and BelugaXL. 

Airbus needs to move large numbers of components to its assembly plants in France and Germany. This includes whole sections of planes.

In the early days, Airbus used the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser-based Guppy transport planes.

(Flickr, Alan Wilson)

Since the mid-1990s, Airbus has used an aircraft called the Beluga. It's based on the company's A300-600 airliner and its official name is the A300-600ST Beluga.

Airbus currently operates a fleet of five Belugas.

The Beluga and its rotund cargo compartment has serious hauling power.

This includes entire sections of fuselage.

Or the tailfins.

Boeing also uses a fleet of specialised transport planes to move large components around. They are called the Being 747-400LCF Dreamlifter.

This month, Airbus introduced the next generation Beluga called the BelugaXL.

It's based on the Airbus A330-200F freighter.

Here it is under construction.

The BelugaXL is 6 metres longer and its cargo compartment is more than three feet wider than its predecessor. It can also carry as much as 50,000kg of cargo.

The Airbus Beluga XL is expected to fly for the first time later this year and will enter service next year after a 10-month test programme.

The new Airbus Beluga XL.

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