Development milestone: Integration begins for Airbus’ next-generation Beluga XL

Courtesy: Airbus.

Airbus’ next-generation oversize cargo airlifter is transitioning from concept to reality as the first Beluga XL core airframe starts its 18-month integration process at the company’s production facilities in Toulouse, France.

The core airframe is an extract of an Airbus A330-200 freighter that already has been structurally reinforced, providing the platform on which the Beluga XL airframe will be built. This element was assembled in December without a nose fuselage or tail assembly – both of which will be added during activity planned in 2017.

Integration of the Beluga XL core airframe will be performed inside the two-section L34 building at Airbus’ Lagardère industrial zone, which is adjacent to Toulouse-Blagnac Airport.

For the first 12 months of the assembly activity, the airframe will be completed and its mechanical and electrical systems will be fitted at an integration station. For the remaining six months, the aircraft will move to a second station for ground testing and engine installation.

“The coming year of final integration will be a series of small steps,” said Beluga XL programme head Bertrand George. “The number of holes to be drilled and fasteners to be installed is far bigger than on any other Airbus aircraft. Sticking to schedule at each step is the key to being ready for first flight in 2018. I fully trust the capability of our teams to make it happen together.”

Based on the airframe of the versatile A330 jetliner, a total of five Beluga XL airlifters are to be built, with the first to enter operational service in 2019. They will gradually replace the existing fleet of Beluga ST aircraft, which were derived from the shorter-fuselage A300.

Once the first Beluga XL enters service, it will provide crucial support to Airbus’ production ramp-up from day one thanks to its ability to carry a full set of A350 XWB wings.

Source: Airbus.

Designed for the future: Sizing up Airbus’ new Beluga XL transporter

Courtesy: Airbus.

Courtesy: Airbus.

With development of the new Beluga XL airlifter, Airbus is creating a platform tailored to meet its evolving transport needs in the decades to come – particularly to support future production ramp-ups for the company’s range of modern single-aisle and widebody jetliners.

The Beluga XL programme was launched in November 2014, with this oversized transporter to be utilised for 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 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.

“The Beluga XL is really a patchwork,” said Olivier Delmas, Head of Overall Aircraft Design for the programme, in explaining how elements of two A330 jetliner versions are combined for the Beluga XL. “Geometrically, it is the forward part of an A330-200F freighter, with the aft part of an A330-300 variant.”

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.

Delmas explained this approach was chosen because no existing aircraft answered Airbus’ criteria for a new-generation transporter, and it allowed the company to create an aircraft capable of handling its requirements based on the proven, robust A330 jetliner family.

“We needed the cargo hold to be 45-metres long with an internal diameter of 8 metres, and a payload capability of 50 tonnes,” he added. “These dimensions can accommodate fuselage sections and allow us to transport a pair of A350 XWB wings – something we can’t do today by air.”

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.

Source: Airbus.

From the A330 to Beluga XL: New transport capacity for Airbus’ industrial network

Courtesy: Airbus.

Courtesy: Airbus.

The first of Airbus’ five new Beluga XL airlifter “giants” will begin taking shape early next year, initiating the creation of a new jetliner fleet to transport complete sections of the company’s aircraft from production sites around Europe to final assembly lines in France, Germany and Spain.

Beluga XL’s lower fuselage will be the same as the Freighter version of Airbus’ A330-200 jetliner and is to be built on the A330 final assembly line adjacent to Toulouse-Blagnac Airport in southwestern France.

The Beluga XL’s other aerostructure-specific components are provided by external suppliers, including the significantly enlarged upper fuselage, the modified forward fuselage section with a lowered nose and cockpit, a large forward cargo door allowing “roll-on-roll-off” loading directly onto the main deck, and a pair of auxiliary vertical tailplane end-fins.

Once a lower fuselage for Beluga XLs is completed on the final assembly line, it will be moved to Building L34 at Airbus’ Lagardère industrial zone adjacent to Toulouse-Blagnac Airport, where the build-up process into the outsized airlifter will take approximately 12 months per aircraft.

The five Beluga XL aircraft will provide an additional 30 percent in transport capacity for Airbus’ industrial network, joining the existing fleet of five A300-600ST Super Transporters – which are based on the legacy A300 jetliner, and were given the original “Beluga” moniker because of their resemblance to the white whale of the same name.

Source: Airbus.