No, what you’re looking at is not a photoshop. It’s not a plane with a horrible, disfiguring growth that nobody likes to talk about. This is the Airbus Beluga XL, and it’s supposed to look exactly like that, because it’s real.
Airbus didn’t design it just to be weird and so that everyone could laugh at it (you cruel monsters, what’s wrong with you?), it’s a specially-designed cargo aircraft based on the regular Airbus A330 used for carrying things that are especially, well, large. Airbus already has a fleet of similar aircraft, the regular Airbus Belugas, but as you may have surmised from the name already, the XL has been built for things even more large. That’s because Airbus discovered that they really needed a plane to carry two wings internally for its new A350 XWB airliner, and the regular Belugas, small shrimps that they are, couldn’t do the job.
Production of the BelugaXLs is pretty weird, too, starting with taking the heads off of what should be a regular plane as it’s still in the factory, Flight Global explains:
Once the upper fuselage has been cut away, three months and some 8,000 new parts are needed to prepare the junction line on which the enlarged freight hold will be mounted. The hold has a payload capability of 51t, up from the 47t of the -600ST.
The XL hold, which is unpressurised, is constructed from the rear, beginning with installation of an adapted tail section from Spain’s Aernnova before progressively building up the upper fuselage by fitting two side panels and a crown to complete each section.
Stelia Aerospace produces the nose section, including the cockpit, which is mated with the A330 platform. Airbus supplies a four-seat courier section which, along with two pilots and a jump-seat, increases the accommodation of the XL to seven personnel. The -600ST could carry five: two pilots and three individuals on jump-seats.
And just in case you don’t believe me that this thing really does fly, here it is on a test flight back in July:
The whole thing is great and all, painted like a whale as it is and featured with flag-waving Europeans, but this is my favorite part of the video:
Just look how big its fivehead is! And it opens up all the way!
Planes are cool.