The Airbus BelugaXL which entered service on January 9, 2020 is a large transport aircraft based on the Airbus A330 airliner. It has the largest cargo bay cross-section of all existing cargo aircraft worldwide, which provides 30% extra transport capacity in order to support the on-going production ramp-up of commercial aircraft programmes.
Airbus had made five of the original Beluga aircraft by 2013. However these weren’t able to keep up with production growth in aviation any longer. So Airbus assessed several other aircraft such as the Antonov An-124 and An-225, Boeing C-17 or Dreamlifter, and A400M before modifying one of its own aircraft. Airbus replaced its five-aircraft A300-600ST fleet with six BelugaXL aircraft, derived from the company’s versatile A330 wide-body product line.
Launched in November 2014, it received European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) certification on November 13, 2019, following tests over 200 flights and more than 700 hours.
Constructed by Stelia Aerospace in Meaulte, northern France, its nose section was delivered in May 2017; the upper front fuselage part was delivered from Stelia Rochefort on 7 July 2017 while the door was on September 2017. The main freight door was attached from mid-November 2017 and the front cargo door was attached in December 2017.
75% of the first BelugaXL was done with structural assembly on October 2017. Its first flight is scheduled on 2018 before 10 months of gathering data during flight necessary for its certification campaign on a 2019 service entry. The second aircraft will enter final manufacturing process on December 2018 and the other three remaining each following year.
Its design is based on an A330 airliner which provides 30% more capacity than the BelugaST that enables it to carry two A350 XWB wings. It incorporates newly-developed elements including lowered cockpit, a highly-enlarged cargo bay structure, and modified rear and tail section.
Compared to the existing Beluga, BelugaXL fuselage is 6.9 meter longer and 1.7 meter wider, that makes it able to lift a 6 tonnes heavier payload. For centre of gravity reasons, its aft section is based on the A330-300 while its forward on the A330-200, and the reinforced floor and structure comes from the -200F.
Its main freight door has 24 latches that was built by Stelia Aerospace. Its vertical stabilizer is 50% larger; it has auxiliary fins on the horizontal stabilizer and two ventral fins beneath the empennage.
The BelugaXL’s hold has a maximum diameter of 8.8m and the infrastructure preparations at Airbus facilities include adapting loading-bay doors to accommodate both the -600ST fuselage and that of the XL.
The Airbus BelugaXL is powered by twin Rolls-Royce Trent 700 turbofan engines; each engine develops a thrust of 71,000 lbf.
BelugaXL is capable of flying non-stop to a maximum distance of 2,300 nautical miles (4,260km) up to 35,000 ft service ceiling with a maximum payload capacity of 50,500kg (111,000lb). its maximum cruising speed is 398 knots with an approach speed of 137 knots.
The maximum take-off and landing weights of the aircraft are 227,000 kg and 187,000 kg respectively with an empty weight of 127,500 kg.
The Airbus BelugaXL is a cargo plane designed to transport large and major components of Airbus aircraft from various production facilities across Europe to the final assembly sites located in Toulouse, France, and Hamburg, Germany. Because of the ability to accommodate a pair of A350 XWB aircraft wings, the new-generation aircraft will also address the transport capacity needs for the ramp-up of A350 XWB.
As enormous as it is, you won’t still be able to travel in it because this aircraft was built as a response to the greater transport and capacity requirements that Airbus expects in the years to come. It will play an important role in the construction of many commercial passenger aircraft we’ll all be flying on over the upcoming decades.