Heavylift / Breakbulk
Heavylift medley takes to the skies
The chief designer of the new Airbus special transporter describes his enormous baby as a bit of a “mish-mash” – but not in a derogative way. Nasa is still transporting space freight using a wide-bodied aircraft whose technology was first introduced 51 years ago. The crash-landing of an airship in August highlights the difficulties facing new technology.
A “great whale” is making headway. It has now been almost two years since Airbus decided to redevelop its large freighter, called the Beluga ST, based on the design of the Airbus A330 (see also page 22 of our Breakbulk / Heavylift Special in ITJ 49-52 / 2014). According to an interim statement issued by the European aircraft manufacturer last year, the project reached the design-freeze stage last autumn (see ITJ Daily of 21 September 2015).
Now Airbus has stated that several versions of the A330 were combined with each other to form the new Beluga. “The Beluga XL is a bit like a patchwork quilt,” says Olivier Delmas, chief designer of the special transporter. For its design, he took the front sections of the A330-200F and merged these with the tail portions of the A330-300. To do this he used an expanded, bubble-like cell, which extended the fuselage diameter of a standard-production A330 from 5.6 to 8.8 m. In addition, the cockpit area was lowered, in order to make room for a nose door on the main deck.
This modular approach was selected because none of the corporation’s existing aircraft fulfilled the required profile. “In future we’ll need 45 m holds with 8 m diameters, designed to handle payloads of 50 t. They’ll transport A350 wings to our factories in Toulouse and Hamburg,” explains Delmas. An additional advantage is that the Beluga XL’s 30% increase in volume compared to the current Beluga ST makes the new airlifter a great deal more cost-effective, and reduces the overall time needed for unloading, refuelling and reloading at the firm’s production plants.
Airbus intends to build a total of five units. The first are expected to go into service from mid-2019, and gradually replace the five Beluga STs that were produced based on the smaller A300 (37.7 m hold length, 7.4 m fuselage diameter and a 47 t payload).
The Super Guppy, based on the Boeing C-97 Stratofighter, has a 45 t payload, and still complies with the stringent requirements of the US space agency Nasa. The organisation operates the last of the “flying fish”. Five of the units, which undertook its maiden flight on 31 August 1965, were produced too. Recent events once again demonstrated how effective the unusual-looking aeroplane, with a cargo space measuring 33.85 x 7.6 x 7.6 m, can be.
Travelling to and from space
On 25 August it touched down at the Kennedy Space Centre’s shuttle landing area in Florida. In its hold was a heat shield with a 5 m diameter, which is intended to protect the crew module of an (initially unmanned) Orion flight when it re-enters the earth’s atmosphere in 2018. It was built in a Lockheed Martin factory near Denver CO.
This slightly outdated wide-bodied freighter thus plays a key role in a US programme to transport people into space again – on the moon or flying around it (approximately by the years 2021 / 2023), or to Mars or even outer space.
Lockheed Martin is also involved in a project to build the largest aircraft operating in the skies today – the Airlander 10, which is approximately 92 m long and 42 m wide. (The Antonov An-225 is 84 m long and 88.4 m wide.) However the Airlander was recently involved in some negative publicity.
Down to earth with a bump
After successfully returning to the Cardington former Royal Air Force base near London from its initial 30-minute test flight in August, the hybrid unit came back down to earth with a hefty bump at the end of its second test flight a week later.
It landed nose-first in the ground at the end of the 100-minute flight, slightly damaging its cockpit.
The operator, Hybrid Air Vehicles, which aims to develop the aircraft into an airlifter capable of carrying 50 t payloads, is investigating.