Airbus says there will be five BelugaXLs scheduled to enter service for the company’s airlift needs. Photo By Airbus.

KUALA LUMPUR: French planemaker Airbus SE is expecting its new voluminous airlifter - the BelugaXL, to make its debut flight in mid-2018, after its first structurally completed airframe rolled out from assembly hangar in Toulouse, France, yesterday.

The European aircraft manufacturer said there will be five BelugaXLs scheduled to enter service for Airbus’ airlift needs.

The BelugaXL will be used to transport completed sections of Airbus aircraft among the company’s European production sites across its final assembly lines in France, Germany and Spain.

Replacing the BelugaST transporter version, the new BelugaXL is measured at 43.7-metres in length and 8.4-metre (freight compartment width) with a payload lifting capacity 53-tonne.

The BelugaXL will be able to transport both wings of the flagship A350 XWB jetliner at once, instead of the single wing currently accommodated on the BelugaST.

Head of BelugaXL programme Bertrand George said the the airlifter is one of the most voluminous aircraft in existence with a bulging upper forward fuselage and enormous cargo area.

“The BelugaXL is hardly recognisable as the outsized airlifter version of the Airbus A330-200 jetliner from which it is derived,” he said in a statement today.

George said 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. The whole team is really looking forward to seeing its first flight and, of course, its smiling livery,” said George, referring to the supersized smile that will be painted across the ‘face’ of the transporter.

The aircraft would undergo months-long battery of tests after installation of its two jet engines to ensure each of the BelugaXL’s systems function as intended.

“We will perform bench tests in Toulouse and Hamburg, Germany – 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,” the official pronouncement of the aircraft’s safety and airworthiness,” said George.

Airbus said the second A330 airframe to be converted into a BelugaXL arrived on schedule in Toulouse to begin its integration process.

George noted the assembly time for the second unit is expected to be about two months shorter, after acquiring lessons from the production of the first transporter.

The BelugaXL programme was launched in November 2014 to address Airbus’ increasing transport requirements.

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