PHOTO: Airbus.

MIAMI — This month, the first structurally complete airframe for the new BelugaXL went out from Airbus assembly hangar in Toulouse, France.

Likewise, when it’s functioning, a fleet of these next-generation airlifters will be managed to carry completed sections of Airbus aircraft among the company’s European production sites and to its final assembly lines in France, Spain, and Germany.

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According to the manufacturer, the BelugaXL transporter is one of the largest aircraft in existence. It’s barely recognizable as the outsized airlifter version of the Airbus A330-200 jetliner from which it is derived with a bulging upper front fuselage and large cargo area.

Bertrand George, head of the BelugaXL programme, shared: “We have the A330 as a foundation, but 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.”

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It’s expected to see flying the first BelugaXL by mid-2018.

“The whole team is really looking forward to seeing its first flight and, of course, its smiling livery,” George added later, regarding the smile that will decorate the ‘face’ of the transporter.

Furthermore, after installation of its two jet engines, the aircraft will undergo a months-long battery of tests, ensuring each of the BelugaXL’s systems works as planned.

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“We will perform bench tests in Toulouse and Hamburg, Germany – testing our systems on flight simulators and in laboratories. The data from these tests will be used to clear the aircraft,” George commented.

While the initial and finished BelugaXL proceeds into its trial phase, the second A330 to be transformed into a BelugaXL already arrived on schedule in Toulouse to commence its integration process.

George explained that is expected to conclude two months shorter due to the lessons learned from the production of the first transporter.

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In November 2014, the BelugaXL programme was launched to address Airbus’ increasing transport requirements. This super next-generation airlifter will be capable to transport both wings of the A350 XWB jetliner at once, replacing the BelugaST that just carries a single wing.

To date, five BelugaXL aircraft are scheduled to start operations for Airbus’ airlift needs.