PICTURES have been released of a new whale-inspired aircraft on its maiden voyage in France before coming home to Broughton.

Airbus' prime BelugaXL – whose livery features beluga whale-inspired eyes and an enthusiastic grin chosen by staff – accelerated down the runway at France’s Toulouse-Blagnac Airport before lifting off on its maiden flight on Thursday, July 919.

The state-of-the-art BelugaXL took to the skies for four hours and 11 minutes as part of a 10 month, 750-flight hour certification campaign before it is sent into service in 2019.

Christophe Cail, Airbus Chief Test Pilot, said: "The aircraft behaves really well in flight. It's impressive how close the BelugaXL’s performance is to what we experienced in the ground-based flight simulators. First flights take a lot of preparation and we are just the tip of the iceberg, so ‘thank you’ to the entire team. It's only together that we can make it fly."

The Beluga XL, which can carry 30 per cent more Broughton-manufactured products to sites across Europe, will replace the fleet of the current Beluga ST.

Each aircraft will perform between 900 and 1,000 flights per year, logging some 1,700 to 1,800 hours annually in servicing 11 line stations at locations across the company’s European industrial network.

It's maiden voyage was greeted by crowds in Tolouse, waving the 'Beluga Airbus' flags as they welcomed the take-off and landing of the 125 tonne airborne 'whale.'