Airbus’ odd-looking BelugaXL aircraft is one step closer to its maiden flight

If you’ve ever seen one of Airbus’s “bloated” Beluga aircraft, you certainly won’t have forgotten about it.

Named after the Arctic whale for its similar appearance, the huge and rather odd-looking airplane has been in service for the last 20 years, flying large aircraft components — think fuselage sections, wings, and tails — from European suppliers to Airbus’s assembly plants in Toulouse, France and Hamburg, Germany.

Now the company is prepping the maiden flight of a new version of the Beluga, one even bigger than the five currently in service.

Called, appropriately enough, the BelugaXL, Airbus revealed in a recent tweet that it has now affixed the engines to the new plane as it gears up for its first-ever flight over Toulouse this summer.

Airbus says the 184-foot-long plane combines outsized cargo-carrying capability with the speed and efficiency of its A300-600 airliner. The front of the Beluga opens up, allowing cargo to be loaded into the cavernous “bubble” space. The cockpit is placed lower than you’ll find it on an A300-600 to avoid having to disconnect electrical, hydraulic, and flight control systems each time cargo is loaded and unloaded.

The latest version of Airbus’s super-transporter can take 6 tons of extra cargo compared to the current Beluga, increasing the limit to 53 tons. It’s also 20 feet longer and 3 feet wider than its predecessor, allowing the company to make further efficiency improvements when it comes to moving large airplane parts. For example, the new design will be able to carry two Airbus A350 wings (instead of just one as with the current Beluga), as well as sections of the double-decker A380, currently the world’s largest passenger plane.

Up to now, many of the assembled sections used for the construction of the A380 are too large even for the current Beluga to carry. This forces upon Airbus a complex logistical operation involving road and sea transportation to ensure safe delivery of the components to Airbus’s facility in Toulouse for final assembly. This extraordinary video on the Smithsonian Channel shows the A380’s wings and fuselage being squeezed through the narrow streets of a French village on their way to the facility. The BelugaXL will change all that, and, of course, help to get the parts to the assembly site in a more timely fashion.

Boeing has an equivalent aircraft called the Dreamlifter that it uses to transport the wings of its 787 Dreamliner plane.

Following test flights that are set to start in the coming months, Airbus plans to build a total of five BelugaXL planes with the aim of putting them into service in mid-2019. The current fleet will be gradually retired through 2025, the company said.

Gaming

Google’s Stadia is the future of gaming, and that’s bad news for our planet

Google’s upcoming Stadia cloud gaming service, and its competitors, are ready to change the way gamers play, but in doing so they may kick off a new wave of data center growth – with unfortunate consequences for the environment.
Gaming

These awesome free-to-play games might be even better than the ones you paid for

Believe it or not, free-to-play games have evolved into engaging, enjoyable experiences. Here are a few of our favorites that you can play right now, including Warframe and the perennially popular League of Legends.
Emerging Tech

Climeworks wants to clean the atmosphere with a fleet of truck-sized vacuums

Using machines that resemble jet engines, Climeworks wants to fight climate change by extracting CO2 from thin air. The gas can then be sold to carbonated drink and agriculture companies, or sequestered underground.
Gaming

Cuphead bosses ranked from easiest to hardest to wallop

Cuphead is notorious for being an exceedingly tough boss rush game. Now that the gorgeous action game has arrived on Nintendo Switch, we decided to rank all 19 of its bosses from easiest to hardest.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Robots that eat landmines and clean your floors

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it's fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

SpaceX experiences problem during test, Crew Dragon capsule may have exploded

SpaceX has experienced a problem during the testing of its Crew Dragon capsule. During the engine test firing at Cape Canaveral yesterday afternoon, an unspecified anomaly occurred which lead to plumes of smoke rising from the test site.
Emerging Tech

The grid of the future will be powered by … giant subterranean bagpipes?

In order to transition to a more renewable-focused energy system, we need to scale up our grid storage capacity --- and our existing methods aren't going to cut it. Could compressed air be the key?
Emerging Tech

Beresheet crash caused by manual command, but reflector device may have survived

Details are emerging about what may have gone wrong with spacecraft Beresheet's failed moon landing. A manual command was entered which led to a chain reaction. But NASA still hopes to salvage use of its Laser Retroreflector Array device.
Emerging Tech

The oldest type of molecule in the universe has been located at last

A milestone in the development of the early universe was the combination of helium and hydrogen atoms into a molecule called helium hydride. But strangely enough, this ancient molecule has never been detected in space before now.
Emerging Tech

Mercury’s wobble as it spins reveals that it has an inner solid core

Scientists have long wondered what the inside of Mercury looks like, and they now have strong evidence that the planet has a large and solid metallic core. The data for the new findings was collected by the now-defunct MESSENGER mission.
Emerging Tech

Gravitational forces at heart of Milky Way shaped this star cluster like a comet

Hubble has captured the stunning Messier 62 cluster. The cluster is warped, with a long tail which stretches out to form a shape like a comet. It is thought this distortion is due to Messier 62's proximity to the center of the galaxy.
Emerging Tech

Burgers are just the beginning: Embracing the future of lab-grown everything

You’ve almost certainly heard of the 'farm to fork' movement, but what about 'lab to table'? Welcome to the fast-evolving world of lab-grown meat. Is this the future of food as we know it?
Emerging Tech

Troubleshooting Earth

It’s no secret that humans are killing the planet. Some say it’s actually so bad that we’re hurtling toward a sixth major extinction event -- one which we ourselves are causing. But can technology help us undo the damage we’ve…
Emerging Tech

Inside the Ocean Cleanup’s ambitious plan to rid the ocean of plastic waste

In 2013, Boyan Slat crowdfunded $2.2 million to fund the Ocean Cleanup, a nonprofit organization that builds big, floating trash collectors and sets them out to sea, where they’re designed to autonomously gobble up garbage.