Airbus Military’s first A400M transport took off from San Pablo airport near Seville, Spain at 10:15 local time on its historic first flight.

Aircraft MSN001 landed at 14:00 local time, after a sortie lasting 3h 45min.

Airbus says the first A400M reached its top speed of 300kt (555km/h) as planned during the flight, and that the aircraft performed as expected.

Perhaps in keeping with the programme’s delayed nature, the A400M got airborne 15min later than scheduled due to a technical glitch which required test computers to be reset twice. But after 15min in the air the transport was at 8,000ft (2,440m) and performing low speed testing. It was also later slowed down to its initial stall speed warning level ahead of landing approach, and operated in both “normal” and “direct” flight control laws.

"The aircraft had sparkling performance on take off," says Ed Strongman, Airbus's chief test pilot, military programmes, who was at the controls for the first flight.

A400M lift 1 - CH
All images © Craig Hoyle/Flight International

"We covered a lot of the flight envelope," he says, and adds: "the interface was as we had hoped." The majority of the flight - which lasted 45min longer than previously forecast, due to good progress with test activities - was performed at altitudes between 8,000ft and 10,000ft, but it as also taken up to 18,000ft during a pressurisation test.

The six-man crew also assessed the A400M's overall handling qualitites, which Strongman describes as remarkable. "This is an aircraft with Airbus pedigree," he says.

MSN001 will now undergo inspection following its first flight, and Airbus says it could potentially perform its second sortie as soon as next week.

A400M lands - CH

A400M crew - CH

Originally expected to fly in early 2008, aircraft MSN001’s 11 December debut comes as Airbus is involved in ongoing negotiations with its seven European customers over the future direction of the delayed programme. Officials declined to comment on the progress of the discussions during the first flight event.

EADS-led Airbus Military should have delivered its first operational example in October under the terms of its single development and production contract, signed in May 2003.