The gale force winds at Shannon Airport in Co Clare provided the perfect weather conditions for a training flight for one of the world's most unusual aircraft: an Airbus Beluga XL - so-called after the whale it is said to resemble.

It is one of only six such jets manufactured by Airbus and it is known as a super transporter, used to transport jet components all over the globe.

At 63 metres long and eight metres wide, Airbus says the Beluga XL has the largest cargo bay cross-section of all existing cargo aircraft worldwide. It can carry two Airbus A350 XWB wings, whereas the Beluga ST can only carry one.

With a maximum payload of 51 tonnes, the Beluga XL has a range of 4,000km.

The Airbus Beluga XL travelled especially from Toulouse in France to Shannon Airport to undertake cross-wind training in the skies above the airport.

The plane, which is painted to look like a Beluga whale, took to the skies at 11am for a two-hour training session before returning to France.

Niall Maloney, Operations and Commercial Director at Shannon Airport, said: "Safety management plays a significant role in the aviation industry and in this regard we have always made our runway available for specific crew or aircraft performance training exercises.

"Today's bad weather created a great opportunity to get real flight experience in windy conditions. It isn’t the first time that Shannon has facilitated such training. In fact, the majority of all new aircraft models since the 1970s have used Shannon at some time specifically for cross-wind component training."

Airbus launched the Beluga XL in late 2014 as a new super transporter supporting the A350 ramp-up.

By the end of 2023, six Beluga XLs - derived from the company’s versatile A330 widebody aircraft - will replace the current Beluga ST fleet.

Sized at seven metres longer and one metre wider than its Beluga ST predecessor, the Beluga XL provides 30% extra transport capacity.