Airbus will carry out 600 hours of flight and certification testing for the new BelugaXL, a large transport aircraft expected to enter into service in 2019, as early as next week. After completing its 10-month program, the new plane is expected to be awarded EASA approval as a successor to the Airbus Beluga.
The original Beluga was initially named the Super Transporter, however, it soon received the nickname Beluga, after the whale it resembles. The name quickly gained popularity and has been officially adopted.
The new model will reinforce the current Beluga ST fleet next year. Five BelugaXLs will replace the earlier models, which entered service in 1995 to transport wings, single-aisle fuselage sections, and subassemblies from Airbus factories to commercial aircraft assembly lines in Toulouse, France, and Hamburg Germany, as well as the A400M military-transport center in Seville, Spain.
“We will perform bench tests in Toulouse and Hamburg, testing our 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. The data from these tests will be used to clear the aircraft for flight and, later on, to attain type certification,” said Bertrand George, head of the BelugaXL program.
The project’s five-year development program will increase Airbus's current inventory by 30 percent by 2022. The hybrid BelugaXL, an A330-743L developed from A330-200 and -300 platforms, will be able to lift six tons more than the current A300-600ST Beluga Super Transporter. It is 20 feet and 40 inches wider than its predecessor.
“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,” said George.
The Rolls-Royce Trent 700-powered, fly-by-wire BelugaXL combines an A330-200 forward section with the aft portion from the longer 300 model and includes the A330-200F cargo floor and structure in order to meet center-of-gravity specifications. The plane also includes a much-larger cargo bay, while the rear fuselage and tail section have been redesigned.
In June, Airbus completed airframe-vibration trials with the initial airframe. The company says that the BelugaXL was "put on pneumatic suspension and special 80-kg 'shakers' were installed to make it move." The trials followed loads-calibration ground-testing.
The BelugaXL will be capable of shipping loads of up to 51 tons over 4,075 km. In comparison to the smaller BelugaST, the new model will be able to transport two A350-1000 wings rather one.