Airbus has rolled out the first structurally complete airframe for its new BelugaXL transporter from its assembly hangar in Toulouse, France.

The BelugaXL, based on the A330-200, will eventually take over the duties of the current BelugaST (Super Transporter) fleet in moving large structural sections, such as wings, between Airbus’s factories in Europe. The existing BelugaST is based on the earlier A300-600 aircraft.

This initial BelugaXL is expected to be flying by mid-2018. Prior to first flight, the aircraft will undergo a months-long battery of tests after installation of its two Rolls-Royce Trent 700 engines. Meanwhile, bench tests in Toulouse and Hamburg will check the aircraft’s systems on flight simulators and in laboratories. Hydraulic jacks will simulate flight loads on full-scale copies of specific joints between the aircraft’s new bulged upper fuselage and the A330’s lower fuselage.

As the first structurally complete BelugaXL moves into its testing phase, the second A330 to be converted has arrived in Toulouse to begin its integration process. With lessons learned from the production of the first aircraft, assembly time for the second is expected to be about two months shorter.

The BelugaXL program was launched in November 2014 to address Airbus’ increasing transport requirements. At six meters (20 ft.) longer, one meter (3.3 ft.) wider and with a payload lifting capacity six tonnes greater than the BelugaST it is replacing, the BelugaXL will be able to transport both wings of the A350 XWB jetliner at once, instead of the single wing currently accommodated on the BelugaST.

There will eventually be a fleet of five BelugaXLs. Service entry is scheduled for 2019.

Alan Dron