(c)AIRBUS 2018, photo by P. Masclet/master films

First Structurally Complete BelugaXL Rolled Out for Testing

Once they are operational, a fleet of five planes that Airbus calls "next-generation airlifters" will transport completed sections of Airbus aircraft among the company's European production sites and to its final assembly lines.

Airbus announced last week that the first structurally complete airframe for its giant new transport aircraft, the BelugaXL was rolled out from its assembly hangar in Toulouse, France, this month and is expected to begin flying by mid-2018.

Once they are operational, a fleet of five planes that Airbus calls "next-generation airlifters" will transport completed sections of Airbus aircraft among the company's European production sites and to its final assembly lines in France, Germany, and Spain. (The photo used in this article is a copyright AIRBUS 2018 photo by P. Masclet/master films.)

The company reported that the BelugaXL is one of the largest aircraft in existence and has an "enormous" cargo area. "We have the A330 as a foundation," said Bertrand George, head of the BelugaXL program, "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," said George, a reference to a smile that will be painted across the front of the transporter; this was the winning design among six options presented to Airbus employees for a vote last year.

The plane will undergo months of testing after its two jet engines are installed: bench tests in Toulouse and Hamburg, Germany and tests that simulate flight loads on full-scale copies of specific joints between the new upper bubble and A330's lower fuselage, according to the announcement, which said the second A330 to be converted into a BelugaXL has arrived on schedule in Toulouse to begin its integration process.

Airbus announced the BelugaXL program three years ago as a way to address its increasing transport requirements. The aircraft are 6 meters longer, one meter wider, and have a payload lifting capacity 6 tonnes greater than the BelugaST transporter version they are replacing.

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