Airbus has completed assembly of the first Beluga XL outsized payload transport aircraft airframe with its mechanical and electrical systems fitted.
The first airframe was spotted fitted with the main cargo door, outside the Final Assembly at Toulouse-Blagnac in southwestern France.
The aircraft will now move to a second station for ground testing and installation of the two Rolls Royce Trent 700 engines.
The program launched in 2014, will meet Airbus evolving transport needs, particularly to support the future production ramp-ups of company's single-aisle and widebody jetliners, carrying complete sections of Airbus aircraft from different production sites around Europe to the final assembly lines in Toulouse, France and Hamburg, Germany.
Based on the airframe of the versatile A330 widebody jetliner, a total of five Beluga XL airlifters are to be built, with the first to enter operational service in mid-2019. They will gradually replace the existing fleet of Beluga ST aircraft, which were derived from the shorter-fuselage A300.
Both versions will operate in parallel for a while, but we'll begin phasing out the ST by the end of 2020. The XL can transport the same cargo with 30 percent lesser flight hours.
The Beluga XL has the forward part of an A330-200F freighter, with the aft part of an A330-300 variant and incorporates newly-developed elements including its lowered cockpit, cargo bay structure, and rear and tail section
A large “bubble” airframe section added to the fuselage’s lower portion takes the Beluga XL’s diameter from 5.6 metres for an A330 up to 8.8 metres. The cockpit has been lowered to make space for a main deck with direct cargo loading/unloading capabilities above it.
The cargo hold is 45 metres long and have a payload capability of 50 tonnes. These dimensions now enable to transport a pair of A350 XWB wings by air, currently not possible.
With a maximum take off weight of 227 tonne, the XL has a range of 4000 km or 2200 nm.
Increasing the Beluga XL’s volume by 30 percent compared to the existing Beluga ST will make the new airlifter much more cost effective. Further enhancements are to reduce the time needed for unloading, refuelling and reloading the aircraft while making its stopovers at locations across the Airbus production network.
Starting in mid-2019, the Beluga XL will gradually replace the existing five-member Beluga ST fleet – which is used for carrying complete sections of Airbus aircraft from different production sites around Europe. The fleet had 5,000 total flight hours in 2012 and that number is projected to be 10,000 in 2017.