Airbus' whale-themed BelugaXL cargo plane officially enters service

Airbus's smiling, huge aircraft, the BelugaXL, officially entered service on Monday as a cargo plane designed to carry large aircraft parts.

The bizarre-looking BelugaXL is the largest version of the plane named for its similarity in shape with the beluga whale – both are white with large, bulbous heads.

The BelugaXL has the largest hold of any cargo plane in the world, 63 metres long and eight metres wide. It is able to carry two wings from the Airbus A350 XWB jet compared to its predecessor, the BelugaST, which could only carry one.

The plane has a range for 4000 kilometres and can carry a payload of 51 tonnes.

Airbus has five of the original Beluga, technically called a A300-600ST Super Transporter, which will continue to operate while the plane manufacturer phases in the new XL model. Five XL models in total will be constructed.

The earlier versions of the Airbus Beluga are modified A300s. The new, larger XL is based on an Airbus A330.

The whale-themed livery was chosen through a poll of 20,000 Airbus employees. Of six choices, the smiling whale received 40 per cent of the votes to win.

The development of the new BelugaXL dates back to a November 2014 plan to improve capacity needs for the aircraft manufacturer. The aircraft received certification from the European Aviation Safety Agency in November last year, following more than 200 flight tests on the plane, clocking more than 700 flight hours.

While the Beluga is one of the strangest-looking aircraft in the sky, Boeing has its own equivalent, the Dreamlifter.

A modified 747 jumbo jet that, as the name suggests the Dreamlifter was created to carry parts of the 787 Dreamliner. Boeing has four of the large transport aircraft. The modified 747s are considered ugly in comparison to the sleek lines of a normal jumbo jet. Boeing Commercial Airplanes president Scott Carson reportedly apologised to the creator of the 747, Joe Sutter (who died in 2016), telling Sutter he was "sorry for what we did to your plane".

See also: Six incredible planes you'll never get to fly on

See also: Why the Boeing 747 was designed with a hump