The first structurally complete airframe for the new BelugaXL has rolled out of the assembly hangar in Toulouse ready to start flying by mid-2018.
It features a bulging upper forward fuselage and enormous cargo area, and once operational, a fleet of these next-generation airlifters will be used to transport completed sections of Airbus aircraft among the company’s European production sites and to its final assembly lines in France, Germany and Spain.
The BelugaXL is based on the A330-200, and head of the BelugaXL programme, Bertrand George says: “We have the A330 as a foundation, but many changes have been successfully designed, introduced into the aircraft and tested. Transforming an existing product into a super transporter is not a simple task.”
“The whole team is really looking forward to seeing its first flight and, of course, its smiling livery,” he adds, referring to the supersized smile that will be painted across the ‘face’ of the transporter, the winning design of six options presented to Airbus employees for a vote in early 2017.
The aircraft will undergo a battery of tests after installation of its two jet engines, ensuring each of the system’s function as intended.
George says: “We will perform bench tests in Toulouse and Hamburg, Germany – testing our systems on flight simulators and in laboratories” as well as using hydraulic jacks to simulate flight loads on full-scale copies of specific joints between the new upper bubble and A330’s lower fuselage.
The second A330 has arrived to be converted into a BelugaXL, and lessons leant from the production of the first one should mean assembly time is two months shorter.
The XL programme was launched in November 2014, and the aircraft is six metres longer, one metre wider and has a payload capacity six tonnes greater than the BelugaST transporter it is replacing.
The new aircraft will be able to transport both wings of the A350 XWB at once, instead of the single wing currently accommodated on the BelugaST, and five XLs are scheduled to enter service.