Airbus’s first Beluga XL over-size transport aircraft is taking shape at the company’s Toulouse headquarters ahead of the aircraft’s first flight in 2018 and entry into service a year later.
The aircraft’s core airframe, which is based on the A330-200 freighter, has been completed and is in the process of being integrated with the Beluga XL nose and tail.
The process was being undertaken at Airbus’s Lagardere industrial zone next to Toulouse-Blagnac Airport, Airbus said in a statement on January 6.
“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,” Airbus said.
“For the remaining six months, the aircraft will move to a second station for ground testing and engine installation.”
Airbus announced in November 2014 it would build five new ““Beluga” transportation aircraft to cater for the planned production rate increases of its aircraft models.
The end of the concept phase, or design freeze, on the Beluga program was reached in September 2015, with the aircraft then moving into the detailed design phase.
The five new Beluga XL aircraft will be based on the A330-200 freighter and powered with Rolls-Royce Trent 700 engines. The first of the type is expected to enter service in 2019. It will be capable of carrying a full set of Airbus A350 wings, the manufacturer said in a statement.
Airbus’s existing Beluga ST fleet of five aircraft, which were based on the out-of-production A300, would be progressively retired through to 2025. The current fleet transports completed sections of an aircraft to Airbus’s final assembly lines in Toulouse, Hamburg and Seville.
“The coming year of final integration will be a series of small steps,” Airbus Beluga XL programme head Bertrand George said in a statement.
“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.”