The Airbus Beluga XL (Airbus A330-743L) is a large transport aircraft based on the Airbus A330 airliner. The aircraft is due to enter service with Airbus Transport in early 2020 to replace the Airbus Beluga in the movement of oversized aircraft components, for example wings. The Beluga XL made its first flight on 19 July 2018, and received its type certification on 13 November 2019.
In 2013, the five original Belugas could not cope with production growth and Airbus evaluated the Antonov An-124 and An-225, Boeing C-17 or Dreamlifter, and A400M before choosing to modify one of its own aircraft. The program was launched in November 2014 to build five aircraft to replace the existing five Belugas; the design freeze was announced on 16 September 2015.
The existing Belugas will not be withdrawn from service when the Beluga XL is introduced; a mixed fleet is to operate for at least five years as the increased production rate of single-aisle aircraft requires the ability to move more parts. The current Beluga fleet flew more than 8000 hours in 2017, doubled from 2014, but the five Beluga fleet is only at its half-life: another operator could use them for civil or military logistic applications.
The Beluga fleet will rise to eight when three XLs will be delivered as the five originals stay in service before being withdrawn from 2021. The original Beluga fleet is reaching its limits, flying five times daily and six days per week: 10,000 hr in 2017 while some parts move on the surface. An original Beluga takes triple the time to move the A330 parts compared to the parts of an A320, climbing to nine times for the A350 parts.
After the A350 production ramp-up, Airbus aims to deliver 880 aircraft in 2019 and raise the A320neo output to 63 per month by 2021, the fleet was expanded with a sixth example in June 2019. The original Belugas could still have 10–20 years’ flying life and will be offered for sale or to serve external customers.
The aircraft’s lower fuselage will be assembled on the A330 final assembly line, and then be moved to another facility for the year-long process of assembling the upper fuselage and the lowered nose fuselage. The first section arrived in Toulouse in November 2016. Final assembly started on 8 December 2016. The first large sections: one central and two lateral rear section panels, arrived on 12 April 2017 at the Toulouse Final Assembly facility (L34) from Aernnova’s factory in Berantevilla, Spain.
Constructed by Stelia Aerospace in Meaulte, its 12×4 m, 8.2 t nose section was delivered in May 2017. The 9 m wide, 8 m long and high, 2.1 t upper front fuselage part, framing the cargo door, was delivered from Stelia Rochefort on 7 July 2017. The 3.1t, 10m long and 8m high door was delivered by Stelia Rochefort in September 2017.
In October 2017, 75% of the first BelugaXL structural assembly was done with systems, mechanical and electrical integration underway before tail elements, already received, are integrated. Its maiden flight is scheduled for summer 2018 before 10 months of flight tests necessary for its certification campaign and a 2019 service entry. The second aircraft will enter final assembly line in December 2018 and the three remaining each following year.
After mating the vertical fin, tail cone and horizontal stabiliser including the outboard vertical surfaces, the main freight door will be attached from mid-November before power-on at the end of 2017. The flight test campaign will use a single, instrumented aircraft. The front cargo door was attached in December 2017. In January 2018, the second arrived in Toulouse for its transformation, in two months less after lessons learned from the first.
The first BelugaXL rolled out of the assembly line on 4 January 2018, unpainted and with no engines. Fewer than 1,000 flight test hours are planned for its certification campaign. After fitting its engines, it was ground tested for months to assess its systems operation, while bench tests in Toulouse and Hamburg, on flight simulators and in laboratories, simulate flight loads on full-scale copies of specific joints between the upper bubble and the lower fuselage, clearing the aircraft for flight then type certification.
In March 2018, the first (MSN1824) was having its engines fitted while the second (MSN1853) was 30% converted. After successful landing-gear and flight-control system checks, MSN1824 will be fuel and ground tested. The third will begin its conversion before the end of 2018. MSN1853 will be first operational in 2019 after proving work in 11 European stations, while MSN1824 flight instrumentation will be disassembled. It was rolled out with its engines but no winglets in April 2018.
It passed the Ground Vibration Test in early June 2018, with ONERA and DLR measuring its dynamic behaviour compared to flight envelope theoretical models. The flight-test programme should last 600h. The second plane had its lower fuselage completed by mid-June before upper shell structural work and freight door fitting after summer for a completion by September or October. The first flight was on 19 July 2018. In February 2019, the first aircraft flew to various destinations, including Airbus’s wing plants in Bremen, Germany and Broughton, Wales.
The first Beluga XL to enter service will be the second aircraft built, which rolled out on 19 March 2019; the first test aircraft will be retrofitted after certification. The second aircraft (MSN1853) commenced flight-testing on 15 April and by then, the first (MSN1824) had completed more than 140 test flights over 500h, the final stage before certification. A third airframe was undergoing conversion, expected to last until the fourth quarter of 2019, for delivery in 2020. Operations should start with two XLs in the second half of 2019.
After more than 200 flight tests over 700 hours, the BelugaXL received its EASA type certification on 13 November 2019, before entering service by early 2020.
With 30% more capacity than the existing Beluga, it will be able to carry two A350 XWB wings instead of one. Its new fuselage is 6.9 m longer and 1.7 metre wider than the Beluga, and it will be able to lift a payload 6 tonnes heavier. Its aft section is based on the A330-300 while its forward on the A330-200 for centre of gravity reasons, and the reinforced floor and structure comes from the -200F. The A330 wings, main landing-gear, central and aft fuselage form a semi-built platform with few systems, without the aft upper fuselage while the upper central fuselage is cut off, facilitated by the metal construction. The enlarged freight hold is mounted in three months with 8,000 new parts on the junction line.
The unpressurised hold begins with the tail adapted by Spain’s Aernnova and continues by building the upper fuselage with two side panels and a crown for each section, for a maximum diameter of 8.8m. Produced by Stelia Aerospace, its main freight door has 24 latches and the nose includes the cockpit while a four-seat courier section is supplied by Airbus. Its vertical stabiliser is 50% larger; it has auxiliary fins on the horizontal stabiliser and two ventral fins beneath the empennage.
It will operate at Mach 0.69 up to 35,000 ft over 2,300 nmi instead of the original 900 nmi.Deharde Aerospace and the P3 group provide the upper fuselage while Aciturri produces the horizontal tail plane extension, auxiliary and ventral fins.