BelugaXL ground tests

The nose of the first Airbus BelugaXL F-WBXL was lifted off the ground by around 11ft (3.5m) during the Ground Vibration Test to determine the aircraft’s empty-weight centre of gravity.

The first flight is approaching of the Airbus’ new-generation Beluga inhouse transport aircraft after the recent completion of key ground tests. The first BelugaXL, F-WBXL (msn 1824), passed the Ground Vibration Test (GVT) requirement. The objective was to measure the aircraft’s dynamic behaviour and confirm theoretical models of various flight conditions, such as manoeuvring, flying in gusty conditions and landing.

The GVT work was carried out by French aerospace research centre ONERA and the Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR, German Aerospace Centre) over eight days. It was conducted in two configurations: with an empty fuselage and loaded with a heavy, tuneable payload. More than 600 sensors, 7,000m (22,965ft) of cable and 300m (984ft) of optical fibres were installed on the fuselage, empennage, engines and wings to measure the vibrations in the aircraft generated by external shakers and seismic exciters.

The GVT is a key part of the work to certify the BelugaXL, as it will help to clear the aircraft’s flight envelope and assess its structural behaviour. The DLR said: “The experimental test data provided by GVTs are useful to update the mathematical structural model of the aircraft; they are then valuable to predict the vibration amplitudes in operation, and necessary to demonstrate freedom from flutter risks throughout the flight envelope.” The test team performed assessments quickly, with measurements taking only four days for each structural configuration. The DLR reported the measurements were captured with a high degree of reliability, with the data processed in near real time. ONERA and the DLR have jointly conducted GVTs for Airbus since 1999, most recently on the A320neo and A350.

The BelugaXL, based on the A330- 200 Freighter, was launched in November 2014 to address Airbus’ requirements for increased transport capacity requirements as it ramps up production rates. The first of five BelugaXLs will fly in summer 2018 and enter service in 2019. The aircraft will replace the current Belugas (based on the A300 and in service since the mid-1990s) on a one-for-one basis with the entire fleet due for replacement by the mid-2020s. Mark Broadbent