Airbus has started integrating the core airframe of its first new Beluga XL cargo airlifter at its production facilities in Toulouse, France.
During the first 12 months of the 18-month integration process, the airframe will be completed, and its mechanical and electrical systems will be fitted at an integration station.
The remaining six months will be dedicated to ground testing and engine installation activities.
Beluga XL’s core airframe is an extract of an Airbus A330-200 freighter aircraft, which has already been structurally reinforced and was assembled last month without a nose fuselage or tail assembly.
Airbus Beluga XL programme head Bertrand George said: “The coming year of final integration will be a series of small steps.
“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.”
Airbus is planning to build a total of five Beluga XL airlifters, with the first to enter operational service in 2019.
Once completed, the aircraft will gradually replace the company’s existing Beluga ST fleet, which was based on the shorter-fuselage A300.
Airbus noted that the aerostructure-specific components to be installed in the Beluga XL include enlarged upper fuselage, modified forward fuselage section with a lowered nose and cockpit, a large forward cargo door allowing ‘roll-on-roll-off’ loading directly onto the main deck, and others.
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