Airbus says its first BelugaXL over-size transport aircraft is on track to make its first flight later in 2018 after emerging from final assembly.
The first of five new BelugaXLs completed final assembly in early January at Airbus’s headquarters in Toulouse, France, the company said on Tuesday (European time). The structurally complete airframe was expected to have its two jet engines installed and undergo ground tests over the next few months before its first flight, due to take place mid-year.
The head of the Airbus BelugaXL program Bertrand George said testing included the 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.
“We will perform bench tests in Toulouse and Hamburg, Germany – testing our systems on flight simulators and in laboratories,” George said in a statement.
“The data from these tests will be used to clear the aircraft for flight and, later on, to attain type certification.”
Airbus announced in November 2014 it would build five new “Beluga” transport aircraft to cater for the planned production rate increases of its aircraft models.
The aircraft’s core airframe is based on the A330-200 freighter featuring Rolls-Royce Trent 700 engines. It will be capable of carrying a full set of Airbus A350 wings.
Entry-into-service is planned for 2019.
“We have the A330 as a foundation but many changes have been successfully designed, introduced into the aircraft and tested,” George said.
“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.”
The smiling livery referred to the supersized smile to be painted across the ‘face’ of the aircraft, which was the winning design from six options Airbus presented to its employees to vote on in 2017.
Meanwhile, the second BelugaXL is currently also in Toulouse undergoing its final assembly.
The BelugaXL is six metres longer and one metre wider than Airbus’s existing fleet of five Beluga ST aircraft, which was based on the out-of-production A300. The current fleet transports completed sections of aircraft to Airbus’s final assembly lines around the world.
Airbus has said previously the Beluga ST fleet would be progressively retired through to 2025.