French aircraft manufacturer Airbus is developing the Beluga XL heavy-lift transport aircraft, which is an advanced version of A300-600ST (Beluga) Super Transporter (ST), to meet its future air transport capacity requirements.

Beluga XL has 30% more payload capacity than Beluga ST, which is based on Airbus A300-600 passenger aircraft. With the ability to accommodate a pair of A350 XWB aircraft wings, the new-generation aircraft will address the transport capacity needs for the ramp-up of A350 XWB.

Due to enter service in 2019, the Beluga XL will replace the current fleet of five Beluga ST aircraft operated by Airbus Transport International by 2025.

The five planned Beluga XL airlifters will be used to transport large components of Airbus aircraft from various production facilities across Europe to the final assembly sites located in Toulouse, France, and Hamburg, Germany.

The maiden flight of Beluga XL is scheduled for mid-2018.

Beluga XL design and features

The Beluga XL cargo airlifter, which is 63.1m-long and 18.9m-high, is based on Airbus A330-200 freighter aircraft. The new aircraft features large bubble-type airframe with an 8m-long, 2.1t enlarged upper fuselage and spacious cargo bay. The aircraft’s lower fuselage is similar to that of A330-200 jetliner.

The fuselage of Beluga XL is equipped with long and thin wings with a wing area of 361.6m² and a wingspan of 60.3m. The tail section features a single vertical fin with twin horizontal stabilisers fitted with a pair of auxiliary vertical tailplane end-fins.

Made from carbon-fibre reinforced polymer materials, the wing structures offer increased aerodynamic efficiency.

“Due to enter service in 2019, the Beluga XL will replace the current fleet of five Beluga ST aircraft operated by Airbus Transport International by 2025.”

The maximum take-off and landing weights of the aircraft are 227t and 187t respectively. The aircraft weighs 178t with zero fuel.

The aircraft is operated by a crew of three members, including two pilots and one loadmaster. Its undercarriage comprises two-wheel nose gear and four-wheel bogie main legs.

Cockpit and cargo

The cockpit and nose sections of Beluga XL have been lowered to create more space for the main deck. The 8.2t nose section has a length of 12m, a width of 6m, and a height of 4m.

With an internal diameter of 8m, the 45m-long cargo bay can accommodate voluminous payloads weighing roughly 53t.

A 140m² large cargo door is positioned in the forward section to allow for ease of loading and unloading of cargo directly from or to the main deck with roll-on-roll-off capability.

Propulsion and performance of Beluga XL transport aircraft

The new Airbus Beluga XL transport aircraft is powered by two Rolls-Royce Trent 700 turbofan engines, suspended on underwing pylons. Each engine develops a thrust of 72,000lb.

Beluga XL is capable of travelling to a distance of 2,200nm at full payload capacity.

Airbus Beluga XL programme details

The Beluga XL programme was launched in November 2014 and entered the detailed design phase in September 2015.

Airbus awarded a $700m-worth contract to Rolls-Royce for the supply of engines and TotalCare engine service support in September 2015.

Production of the Beluga XL airplane began in December 2015. The integration of mechanical and electrical systems into the aircraft is currently underway at the final assembly line in Toulouse-Blagnac in south-western France.

The nose fuselage and the main cargo doors were developed by Stelia Aerospace. TELAIR was chosen to supply the cargo loading system.

Aernnova designed and built the aircraft’s rear fuselage and dorsal fin, while Aciturri produced the horizontal tailplane box extension and auxiliary fins.

Airbus selected P3 Voith Aerospace and Deharde for the design and construction of fuselage of the cargo bay.