8 Cool Facts You May Not Know about the Airbus Beluga Whale

From its larger-than-life size to the alternative paint jobs, the BelugaXL continues to “Wow” and make us smile.


If you love all-things aerospace, you must have heard about the “flying Beluga whale”.

Yes – it’s an actual airplane painted with the face of a beluga whale. Last month, Airbus’ BelugaXL completed its first flight over southwest France.

It’s not just its awesome paint job that makes this aircraft stand out, but its size. The plane is a transporter aircraft, a modification of the Airbus A330-200 jetliner, making it one of the largest planes in the world. Because we wanted to know more about this impressive (and truthfully, delightful) aircraft, we did some digging.

Here are 8 cool facts about the Airbus Beluga Whale you may not know:


Whale done! ?? #BelugaXL pic.twitter.com/feESAUhhN0

— Airbus (@Airbus) July 19, 2018

beluga whale

      1. You can fly in the Beluga Whale… in 10 months.

Last month’s flight marked the start of a 10-month testing period for the whale-plane. In that time, it must complete a total 600 hours in the air, which is long way to go from its 4:11 hour maiden flight. If successful, the plane can start flying commercially.

      1. North Wales had to widen their runway to fit the whale.

The BelugaXL’s size was designed with a purpose. Airbus uses the plane and similar-sized series to transport aircraft wings from factories to assembly in Europe. The Hawarden airport in North Wales houses one of those wing factories. However, North Wales’ airport did not have a large enough runway for the supersized Beluga. Therefore, the airport had to create new blast fences and resurface its runway for future “North Whales”.

      1. We’re going to see four more whales.

Oh yes. Airbus said the first BelugaXL is one of five aircrafts in the series. The other four are expected to enter service in 2019. Additionally, Airbus will build five more aircrafts between 2019 – 2023 to gradually replace the first five in the BelugaST series.

  1. The plane is larger than two blue whales.

At 63.1 meters long, the BelugaXL is more than double the size of the blue whale (24-30 m.), the largest living mammal on Earth. No living mammal, extinct dinosaur (hello, megaladon and ichthyosaur) or larger-than-life legend could compare. Although Smaug comes closest at 61 m.

  1. A pink whale was another option for the beluga whale design.

Airbus’ staff actually voted on their favorite design for the massive airplane among 6 other options. From 20,000 employee votes, the “Smiling BelugaXL” came out as the clear winner with 40% of the vote.

But what were the other options? Although Airbus has not revealed the other designs, several reddit users mention a pink version of the aircraft that apparently was runner-up. An all-blue beluga was another option.

  1. Powering the beluga whale airplane costs over one billion dollars.

A bigger plane means a bigger engine. In this case, two engines. The BelugaXL has two Rolls-Royce Trent 700 Turbofan engines to power it into the sky, costing about $40 M each.

The entire program to build these flying giants cost over 1 billion.

Whale done guys! ?? #BelugaXL pic.twitter.com/PUCh3UVGHC

— Airbus (@Airbus) July 19, 2018

  1. The whale’s forehead opens.

Perhaps you’re wondering, “How do they load aircraft wings into the plane?” Us, too.

The logistics, however, don’t look as complicated as we thought. The BelugaXL’s “forehead” opens to allow crews to load and unload massive cargo, like a plane wing. With this much storage space, the aircraft can fly 4,000 kilmeters (2,485 miles) while carrying up to 50 tons.

  1. The O.G. Beluga came into service in 1994.

For those who may not know, the A330-200 airliner first flew in 1994. People started to call this aircraft the “Beluga” because its white color and prominent forehead resembled the Arctic whale. It wasn’t until 2014 that Airbus launched a program to modify the A330-200 airliner to make it bigger to meet the needs of increased aircraft production.

For reference, the BelugaXL can carry both wings for Airbus’s large A350 airliner. The original Beluga can only carry one wing.

beluga whale

In Conclusion

What do you think of our list? Would you be a passenger on the BelugaXL, or would you have voted for the pink or blue version of the aircraft design? If we left something out, please let us know!

And of course, if anyone receives news of the BelugaXL flying backward (as real beluga wales do), please send photos!

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Adam Beck

Director of Marketing at CADENAS PARTsolutions | A Marketing graduate from the Miami University, Farmer School of Business in Oxford Ohio, Adam has years of experience in marketing and design for a variety of industries.