First Airbus Beluga XL freighter unveiled with whale livery

It's all smiles at Airbus this week after the aircraft manufacturer unveiled its latest version of the Beluga freighter jet, painted to look like its marine mammal namesake.

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 original Beluga, technically called a A300-600ST Super Transporter, has the largest cargo hold of any non-military aircraft flying today. Airbus has five Belugas, which are used for transporting parts of other aircraft, such as fuselage sections, wings and tails for A320s and A330s, along with parts for the new A350.

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 BelugaXL will now undertake ground tests before first flights planned later in 2018.

The development of the new BelugaXL dates back to November 2014 to improve capacity needs for the aircraft manufacturer. Five BelugaXLs will be built, with the first set to enter service in 2019.

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 Airbus is only making seven of the world's longest-range plane