12 January 2018

Latest Airbus Project to Carry Company's Own Freight (But That Name Has Connotations)  

Giant Aircraft is a Step Into the Unknown and - Despite the Look - is Not a Heavy Lift Plane

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Shipping News Feature FRANCE – EUROPE – One hopes that, in time, the choice of name for its latest innovation will not be a source of regret to the plane makers as the first structurally complete airframe for the new Airbus BelugaXL rolled out from its assembly hangar in Toulouse, France, this month. Whether referring to the critically endangered species of whale or sturgeon, or the innovative German heavy lift and special project freight group which foundered in 2011 after pirate attacks on two of its vessels resulted in murder, the title might be considered to court disaster.

The specifically targeted Airbus project however is probably more likely to succeed and, once operational, a fleet of these next-generation airlifters will be used to transport completed sections of Airbus aircraft among the company's European production sites and to its final assembly lines in France, Germany and Spain, with this initial aircraft expected to be flying by mid-2018.

The BelugaXL is one of the most voluminous aircraft in existence, and everything about it speaks to that fact. With a bulging upper forward fuselage and enormous cargo area, the BelugaXL is hardly recognisable as the outsized airlifter version of the Airbus A330-200 jetliner from which it is derived. Bertrand George, Head of the BelugaXL programme, said:

“We have the A330 as a foundation, but many changes have been successfully designed, introduced into the aircraft and tested. 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’ to which George is referring to, is the ‘supersized smile’ that will be painted across the ‘face’ of the transporter, the winning design of six options presented to Airbus employees for a vote in early 2017.

The aircraft has still yet to undergo a month long battery of tests after installation of its two jet engines, ensuring each of the BelugaXL’s systems function as intended. The company will perform bench tests in Toulouse and Hamburg, Germany – testing the aircraft’s systems on flight simulators and in laboratories as well as using hydraulic jacks to simulate flight loads on full-scale copies of specific joints between the new upper bubble and A330’s lower fuselage.

While the first structurally complete BelugaXL moves into its testing phase, the second A330 to be converted into a BelugaXL arrived on schedule in Toulouse to begin its integration process. George noted that with lessons learned from the production of the first transporter, the assembly time for the second is expected to be about two months shorter.

The BelugaXL programme was launched in November 2014 to address Airbus’ increasing transport requirements. At six metres longer, one metre wider and with a payload lifting capacity six tonnes greater than the BelugaST transporter version 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. All told, five BelugaXLs are scheduled to enter service for Airbus’ airlift needs.

Photo: That smiley face is certainly distinctive and has something of the features of the most popular whale kept in captivity about it.

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