Airbus has rolled out the first structurally complete BelugaXL airframe from its assembly hangar in Toulouse.
The next-generation airlifter is based on the A330-200 airliner and, once certified, it and four other examples will be used to transport completed aircraft structures across the company’s European production sites as well as to its final assembly lines in France, Germany and Spain.
Bertrand George, Head of the BelugaXL programme, remarked: “We have taken the A330 as a foundation, but have introduced many design changes into this aircraft. Transforming an existing product into a super transporter has not been an easy task.”
The airframe will now undergo several months of ground testing as well as assessing the jet’s systems on flight simulators and laboratories in Toulouse and Hamburg. The manufacturer will also simulate, using hydraulic jacks, loads on full-scale copies of specific joints between the new upper bubble and A330’s lower fuselage to ensure they meet specifications. The data from these tests will be used to clear the aircraft for its maiden flight, which is expected in mid-year.
Airbus says the second A330 to be converted has arrived in Toulouse on schedule, and integration work has already started. George noted that lessons learned from the production of the first transporter are expected to reduce the assembly time for the second aircraft by around two months.
The BelugaXL programme was launched in November 2014 to address Airbus’ increasing transport requirements. At 20ft (6m) longer, 3ft 3in (1m) wider and with a payload lifting capacity six tonnes greater than the Beluga ST transporter it will be replacing, the Beluga XL will be capable of transporting both wings of the A350 XWB at once.