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First BelugaXL Transporter Rolls Off Assembly Line

The first structurally complete airframe for the new Airbus BelugaXL recently rolled out from its assembly hangar in Toulouse, France. 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 one of the most voluminous aircraft in existence. With a bulging upper forward fuselage and enormous cargo area, the BelugaXL is hardly recognizable as the outsized airlifter version of the Airbus A330-200 jetliner from which it is derived. This initial BelugaXL is expected to be flying by mid-2018.

“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.”

“The whole team is really looking forward to seeing its first flight and, of course, its smiling livery,” said Mr. George, 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 months-long battery of tests after installation of its two jet engines, ensuring each of the BelugaXL’s systems function as intended. Mr. George said, “We will perform bench tests in Toulouse and Hamburg, Germany – testing our systems on flight simulators and in laboratories. The data from these tests will be used to clear the aircraft for flight and, later on, to attain type certification.”

The BelugaXL program was launched in November 2014 to address Airbus’ increasing transport requirements. At six metres longer, one metre wider and with a payload lifting capacity six tonnes greater than the BelugaST transporter version it is replacing, the BelugaXL will be able to transport both wings of the A350 XWB jetliner at once, instead of the single wing currently accommodated on the BelugaST. All told, five BelugaXLs are scheduled to enter service for Airbus’ airlift needs.

Airbus has crafted the video below for a more detailed look into the history of the Beluga transporter series: