A whale has rolled out from its assembly hangar in Toulouse, France. Airbus has finished the first structurally complete airframe for its aptly named BelugaXL.
Claimed by Airbus to be “one of the largest aircraft in existence,” the BelugaXL will be used to transport completed sections of Airbus aircraft across the company’s European production sites to final assembly lines in France, Germany and Spain. The aircraft is actually based on the Airbus A330-200, though its appearance makes that fact difficult to discern.
“We have the A330 as a foundation,” said Bertrand George, head of the BelugaXL program, “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.”
He continued to say that his team looks forward to the BelugaXL’s first flight, which is scheduled to occur by mid-year. The team also looks forward to seeing the aircraft’s smile, George said, as there will be a smile painted across the front of the aircraft. Airbus employees voted on that design early last year.
But the very next steps for the BelugaXL include months-long battery tests after installation of its two jet engines, Airbus said. Bench tests are to be performed in Toulouse and Hamburg, Germany, on flight simulators and in laboratories. Testing would also include use of hydraulic jacks to simulate flight loads on full-scale copies of specific joints between the new upper bubble and A330’s lower fuselage, according to George.
“The data from these tests will be used to clear the aircraft for flight and, later on, to attain type certification,” George said.
A second A330 is scheduled to be converted into a BelugaXL while the first undergoes testing. George said that the ability to incorporate lessons learned from the first aircraft would allow assembly time for the second to be some two months shorter.
The BelugaXL replaces the BelugaST — the new aircraft can carry six tons more. Airbus said the BelugaXL would be able to transport both wings of the A350 XWB jetliner at once, instead of the single wing currently accommodated on the BelugaST. The program has five BelugaXLs scheduled to enter service.