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Airbus advances military Beluga plans

Airbus loads a CH-53 helicopter onto the BelugaST as it looks to develop the outsized airlifter for military use. (Airbus)

Airbus has advanced plans to offer its A300-600ST Beluga (BelugaST) as an outsized cargo platform, developing and testing a bespoke loading system for the aircraft.

The manufacturer announced the milestone on 21 September, saying the capability was successfully tested during a verification exercise with the German armed forces (Bundeswehr), the system's first customer, by loading a VFW-Sikorsky CH-53G heavy-lift transport helicopter.

“The new self-funded cargo loading system and jig, developed by engineers at Airbus Defence and Space (DS), have now been unveiled to customer representatives from international armed forces following the verification event in Manching, north of Munich,” Airbus said in a statement. “The system was developed and manufactured from scratch in one-and-a-half years – from the initial exchange of ideas with the German customer to its verification, which is still subject to final confirmation by the Bundeswehr in the coming weeks.”

As noted in the announcement, the system enables arrangements for the loading of a CH-53 in a reduced state of dismantling to be completed within less than one-and-a-half hours while the actual loading process into the BelugaST aircraft can be accomplished in about one hour. The total lifting capacity of the system, which requires no crane for its use, is 35 tonne, and it can be relocated to the aircraft's destination for offloading the cargo.

Airbus first proposed utilising its BelugaST fleet of five aircraft for military outsized cargo earlier in 2022, following the development of the larger A330-200 BelugaXL for company use.

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