Article: Bristol Belugas

On Thursday 14th February 2019, Airbus showed off its new Beluga XL to the UK public with a flypast at their factory at Filton in Bristol. South West Aviation Photographers were there to witness the event.

With the many partner nations of Airbus producing their own components and then being transported to a final assembly line it was decided in 1972 to purchase 4 highly modified Boeing Stratocruisers  known as Supper Guppy’s.

© Gary Morris

Growing operating costs meant that in 1991 Airbus invested $1 Million into the development of the Airbus A300-600ST Super Transporter and between 1992-1997 5 airframes were built. Airbus Transport International’s primary tasking is to ferry Airbus parts from the various sub assembly lines to the final assembly lines around Europe. Previously they have also carried out contract work for the Columbus module of the International Space Station and carriage of various Eurocopter helicopters including the NH-90.

The Beluga XL formally known as the Airbus A330-743L was announced in November 2014 having evaluated a number of outsourced aircraft including the Antonov AN-124, Boeing Dreamlifter and their own Airbus A400M it was once again decided to go back to the drawing board. with the original Beluga’s struggling to keep up with production growth especially for the A350 parts which takes nine times longer to load and unload compared to that of the A320 family parts. The Beluga XL also gives Airbus Transport International 30% more capacity per flight that its predecessor and will allow Airbus UK to deliver wings in pairs rather than singly from their Hawarden site.

The first XL, registration F-WBXL, rolled off the Toulouse Production line on 4th January 2018 carrying out its first test flight on 19th July 2018 which was live streamed into the Airbus Chalet at the Farnborough International Airshow. On Thursday 14th February 2019 F-WBXL made its first appearance in the UK carrying out official flypasts at Airbus Filton and Rolls Royce Derby before landing at Hawarden, Chester to carry out initial trials and testing.

© Kev Slade
© Simon Fukes
© Matt Sudol

Over the next five years , 3 Beluga XL’s will compliment the existing 5 Beluga’s in order to cope with demand of the single isle fleet production.

Aero Spacelines 337SGT-201 Super Guppy
F-BTGV001Preserved Bruntingthorpe, UK
F-BPPA002Preserved Toulouse, France
F-GDSG003Preserved Hamburg, Germany
F-GEAI004Still Active as N941NA
Airbus A300B4-608ST
F-GSTA655In service With Airbus Transport International
F-GSTB751In service With Airbus Transport International
F-GSTC765In service With Airbus Transport International
F-GSTD776In service With Airbus Transport International
F-GSTF796In service With Airbus Transport International
Airbus A330-743L
F-WBXL1824In Testing with Airbus
F-WBXS1853In Production with Airbus
TBC1930In Production with Airbus

© Matt Sudol – South West Aviation Photographers 2019