Russia’s modernized Ilyushin Il-76MD-90A military heavy lifter, also known as Il-476, has started the first stage of assessment trials for the country’s defense ministry.

The first of 22 test flights planned for this stage took place March 18 in Zhukovsky, near Moscow. The flight lasted 1 hr., 55 min., and involved the prototype 002. According to Ilyushin, the aircraft flew at altitudes of 2,000 to 10,000 meters (6,600-33,000 ft.), testing structural capabilities, new automatic flight control, navigation equipment and the glass cockpit. The prototype 001 is involved in static tests.

Compared to the basic Il-76MD, the modernized freighter features an improved wing and reinforced landing gear enabling an increase in takeoff weight from 190 to 210 tons, and payload growth from 47 to 60 tons. The older D-30KP2 turbofans were replaced by more powerful PS-90A-76 engines, allowing for the use of shorter runways. The Il-76MD-90A prototype made its first, 40-min.-long flight on Sept. 22, 2012.

An Ilyushin spokeswoman tells Aviation Week that the first stage of assessment trials is expected to take about two months, until the end of May, after which the military should give preliminary approval for the aircraft’s serial production.

The second stage of the trials will involve 60 more flights, including operational suitability tests like parachute drops, she adds.

Although the basic variant was manufactured at TAPO’s facility in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, the Il-76MD-90A will be assembled in Russia at the Aviastar-SP plant, a subsidiary of Russia’s United Aircraft Corp.

The first three aircraft of the type are expected to be delivered in 2014. The Russian defense ministry already has ordered 39 Il-76MD-90As valued at about 140 billion rubles ($4.5 billion), with deliveries scheduled through 2018.