Airbus has completed structural final assembly of the first test example of the A321XLR following delivery of major component assemblies on schedule to its Hamburg, Germany final assembly line (FAL) last month. While other Airbus FAL locations will eventually produce the long-range narrowbodies, the company has chosen Hamburg to “pilot” the new A320neo variant into series production, starting with the three development flight test aircraft—now in various stages of completion.
“For the A321 Family, we have started all the head-of-versions in Hamburg…and it is our intention to build these aircraft also at the other sites,” said A320 program head Michael Menking. “We are currently on the way to also have the A321XLR delivered out of other single-aisle FALs. So it is important for sure that all the teams learn from the experience in Hamburg so we can bring this knowledge to the other facilities. This is also what we are doing with the A320 Family Airspace cabin, which we started in Hamburg.”
The first A321XLR will next enter a so-called working party to install its flight-test-instrumentation (FTI) suite followed by installation of its CFM Leap engines and nacelles. Engineers will then test the engines the first time, then the landing gear retraction mechanism and the door fairings, followed by an overall quality inspection of the aircraft.
“In the final assembly of the A321XLR aircraft there is not a big variation compared with the other A321 aircraft,” said Airbus head of A320 value stream Gerd Weber. “The major differences in the -XLR are seen in the ‘pre-FAL,’ at section assembly level, where the rear center tank is installed, for example.”
Airbus calls the Premium Aerotec-produced rear center tank, which holds 12,900 liters (3,408 gallons) of extra fuel, the “key enabler” of the airplane’s 4,700-nm range.
“What is also specific for this first A321XLR aircraft is that there is a lot of documentation work to be done, especially for flight-test installation, which is very different from our serial process,” added Weber. “So this requires a special focus by all the teams in closing the documentation and dealing with any discrepancies.”
The next production step—the application of the aircraft’s external paint scheme—essentially completes the airplane ahead of handover to the flight-test teams, which will activate and run all the systems, flight controls, engines, and the APU through a series of ground tests, followed by taxiing runs and first flight next year.