Airbus A300-600ST or Super Transporter as known as Beluga has been flying across European sky for many years transporting sections of Airbus’ plane from Airbus manufacturing sites to Airbus aircraft final assembly lines around Europe. Now, Airbus it on its way to introduce a newer airlifter called Beluga XL.
In May 2015, Airbus revealed its plan to build Beluga XL to replace the previous version Beluga ST which is in service since 1996. Not only to get a newer airlifter but also redesign to meet higher capacity demand to transport larger and heavier plane sections.
While Airbus’ new-generation Beluga XL oversized airlifter may resemble its Beluga ST predecessor, several key physical changes will bring additional capabilities to the movement of major aircraft sections and components within the company’s production network.
The Beluga XL, which is based on today’s A330 jetliner, has its enlarged fuselage “bubble” section that is six metres longer and one metre wider than on the Beluga ST – an aircraft derived from Airbus’ earlier-production A300-600.
With this bigger “bubble,” the Beluga XL will be able to carry larger sections of Airbus aircraft between European production sites and to the final assembly lines in Toulouse, France and Hamburg, Germany – including a full wing-set for the A350 XWB’s latest A350-1000 version.
“Payload was the big driver for us,” explained Jean-Marc Passuello – leader of a cross-functional Airbus delivery team responsible for the development of major component assemblies. “We knew what the Beluga XL had to be able to carry, and that meant making some changes.”
“Among the physical differences between the Beluga ST and XL versions is the dorsal fin that connects to the vertical tailplane” added Olivier Maillard, delivery team leader for rear fuselage and dorsal fin. On the Beluga ST, this component is triangular and manufactured as a single part – but to ensure stability for the larger Beluga XL, it was increased in size and produced in three parts with a distinctive “kink” in the diagonal.
According to delivery team leader Guillaume Pages, the need for stability also led to an updated horizontal tailplane. “We had to add a metre to each side using what we call extension boxes, and the auxiliary fins on the outside of the horizontal tailplane are a metre higher than those on the Beluga ST,” he said.
Pages’ team also added ventral fins as a completely new feature of the Beluga XL. Located along the bottom of the aft fuselage, they have the same stabilising function as the dorsal fin.
In January 2017, Airbus’ next-generation oversize cargo airlifter is transitioning from concept to reality as the first Beluga XL core airframe starts its 18-month integration process at the company’s production facilities in Toulouse, France.
The core airframe is an extract of an Airbus A330-200 freighter that already has been structurally reinforced, providing the platform on which the Beluga XL airframe will be built. This element was assembled in December without a nose fuselage or tail assembly – both of which will be added during activity planned in 2017.
Integration of the Beluga XL core airframe will be performed inside the two-section L34 building at Airbus’ Lagardère industrial zone, which is adjacent to Toulouse-Blagnac Airport.
For the first 12 months of the assembly activity, the airframe will be completed and its mechanical and electrical systems will be fitted at an integration station. For the remaining six months, the aircraft will move to a second station for ground testing and engine installation.
“The coming year of final integration will be a series of small steps,” said Beluga XL programme head Bertrand George. “The number of holes to be drilled and fasteners to be installed is far bigger than on any other Airbus aircraft. Sticking to schedule at each step is the key to being ready for first flight in 2018. I fully trust the capability of our teams to make it happen together.”
Based on the airframe of the versatile A330 jetliner, a total of five Beluga XL airlifters are to be built, with the first to enter operational service in 2019. They will gradually replace the existing fleet of Beluga ST aircraft, which were derived from the shorter-fuselage A300.
Once the first Beluga XL enters service, it will provide crucial support to Airbus’ production ramp-up from day one thanks to its ability to carry a full set of A350 XWB wings.
Source : Airbus