When living large is just not good enough, you need to live XL — Beluga XL that is!
Airbus is in process of upgrading their “oversize cargo airlifter” and recently shared some photos of its progress. The new model will replace the five current Beluga STs (for Super Transporter) that are used to fly aircraft parts around Europe to Airbus final assembly sites in Hamburg and Toulouse.
I typically find two reactions with the current Airbus Beluga. Either “OMG that is freaking awesome” or “what the hell, that ugly plane?” Sure, it might be a look like a plane that only a mother could love, but I find it rather beautiful.
The current five Belugas (does that mean they are a pod?) went into service in 1995 and were built off the Airbus A300-600. A while back I was fortunate enough to tour Airbus Beluga 1 during a visit in Hamburg. I can tell you that the beast is even more impressive in person than it is via photos. Where the Dreamlifter looks like a 747 that ate too much, the Beluga looks like a plane with a really big forehead and a body to match. Don’t get me wrong… both of those descriptions come from a place of love, not judgement.
Although the XL won’t look too different from the ST, that is not really a bad thing.
They have served their purpose well, but it is time for a replacement. The new Belugas will be bigger (hence the addition of the “XL”) and also based off the A330-200F. The additional 30% in capacity will allow it to haul more, including full wing sets of the A350.
These photos show the first core airframe that has been structurally reinforced and will be used for the first Beluga XL. It will start its 18-month production journey in Toulouse. Airbus hopes the first flight of the XL will occur in 2018 and that they will enter service in 2019. They will build five of the new models and slowly replace the current STs, with the last one going into service around 2020.
“The coming year of final integration will be a series of small steps,” said Beluga XL program head Bertrand George. “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. I fully trust the capability of our teams to make it happen together.”
No question this is one kick ass plane. The only issue is I get this song stuck in my head any time I write about it. Thanks a lot, Airbus!