Yesterday at a paint hanger in Toulouse, Airbus had a “whale of a time” unveiling the first completed “BelugaXL” freighter. More on that later… Ground tests are expected to commence shortly, with flight tests on track to begin later this summer. Airbus expects the first aircraft to enter service next year, at which time the BelugaXL will transport aircraft components and assemblies between Airbus manufacturing and assembly sites around the globe.
Airbus first announced the BelugaXL project in November 2014 and said it would build a total of five units. The freighter is given an “XL” designation for its increased size compared to the five Belugas Airbus currently operates. Unlike the earlier Belugas that were based on the smaller A300-600, the XL is based on the larger A330-200. Boasting an additional one meter in width and six meters in length, the Beluga XL will be able to carry two A350 XWB wings at a time, twice that of the current Beluga.
Since the program’s launch, here’s a look at the BelugaXL assembly timeline:
November 2015: Airbus selects major suppliers for the BelugaXL
December 2016: Final assembly of the BelugaXL begins with a structurally reinforced airframe
November 2017: Cargo door installation
April 2018: Engines are mounted
June 2018: Assembled and painted, the BelugaXL is ready for testing