Airbus’s first BelugaXL aircraft has made its maiden flight to one of the companies plants in the UK at Broughton.
It departed Toulouse just after 14:10 on 14 February and conducted a flypast at the Filton facility, and along the Bristol Channel where it briefly met up with a helicopter for a photo oportunity, before heading north through Wales to Hawarden Airport where Airbus is based.
The Rolls-Royce Trent 700-powered aircraft then conducted flypasts at Broughton before touching down and coming to a spectacular performance stop, Tony Flynn one of the test pilots discribed this as a performance stop, designed to test the shortest stopping distance of the aircraft, as you can see we stopped in under half the runway. He went on to discribe every flight as a test flight and that this stop was part of a number of tests that they have to carry out.
Airbus ingeniosly had Welcome to the UK projected on the side of the plane with love hearts falling down it, the effect was most welcome and went down a storm with the crowds and media alike. Later on that night airbus staff was able to take photos of the aircraft with the lights on, which looked stunning when took just after sunset.
Broughton has a relatively short runway with a length of 2,093m, being able to stop in short distances is a must to operate from here. The technical characteristics of the airfield were crucial to the selection of a base aircraft on which to develop the BelugaXL, the successor to the A300-600ST.
Airbus needed a transport larger than the A300-600ST, in order to carry two A350 wings, but considered that a modified A330-300 or A340-500 would be too large to land at Broughton, particularly in wet conditions.
Test Pilot Tony Flynn has a long standing career at Airbus after working on the A400M with over 2,000 flying hours and 10 year on the type, has then become the test pilot for the BelugaXL.
He told the media: “This is new generation. This is fly by wire so for the pilots it’s much easier and pleasant to fly so it’s a very nice flying aeroplane. It flies even better than the normal A330 because they have made some modifications to the flight controllers.”
Its BelugaXL is a hybrid largely designed around the A330-200, and formally designated the A330-700L.
Airbus is conducting certification work with the aircraft which, over the past week, has been flown to Seville and the Moron air base in Spain for testing, as well as the airframer’s facility in Bremen.
Bertrand George, head of the Beluga XL programme, said testing at Hawarden was important to check modifications made to cater for the Beluga XL worked – including the newly resurfaced runway, new turn pads and blast fencing.
Mr George went on to say “Today is very important for us because the XL was launched four years ago. Last year we had the first flight and today is the very first landing at Broughton, which is the airport sizing and the aircraft performance. Broughton is a short runway. We have worked a lot during the last few years to make it compatible for the Beluga XL.”
The aircraft is a magnificant feat of modern engineering, with its use being logistics there are no seats other than the crews to be installed, there are no cooking facilities on board but this is not required as the flights are generally under an hour and the crew genreally just grab a bottle of water for the flight, there is toilet facilites onboard thoguh, for those in-flight emergencies.
Airbus was a fantastic host and we look forward to working with them again in the future. Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to cover the arrival and for the interviews with the crew.