Airbus’ next-generation oversize cargo airlifter is taking shape 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 comes from 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 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.
Based on the airframe of the A330, 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.
The Beluga XL, features an enlarged fuselage “bubble” section that is six metres longer and one metre wider than on the Beluga ST. With this bigger “bubble,” the Beluga XL will be able to carry larger sections of Airbus aircraft between European production sites and to the final assembly lines in Toulouse, France and Hamburg, Germany – including a full wing-set for the A350 XWB’s latest A350-1000 version.
Other differences between the Beluga ST and XL versions include an enlarged and redesigned dorsal fin that connects to the vertical tailplane, an extended horizontal tailplane with larger auxiliary fins, and ventral fins along the bottom of the aft fuselage.