China’s Y-20 heavy airlifter, long known to be in development, made its first flight on Jan. 26.

Official photographs showed the aircraft powered by four medium-bypass turbojets and adopting the familiar configuration of a high-wing, T-tail and short fuselage-mounted undercarriage now almost universally used for military transports. The undercarriage had three axles on each side, with two wheels mounted on each axle. The aircraft has therefore not differed markedly from the design previously revealed in low-resolution pictures.

A Chinese high-bypass engine has been under development for the aircraft, but was evidently not ready, or not trusted, for the first flight.

The gross weight of the aircraft is in the 200 metric ton (440,000 lb.) class, manufacturer Avic Aircraft, the large airplane builder of state aeronautics group Avic, said three years ago.

Confirming the designation Y-20, state news agency Xinhua says China has developed the aircraft itself. Such official claims are customary in China, however, even for equipment that has obviously been copied.

The Y-20 is a multipurpose airlifter capable of operation in bad weather and of carrying all sorts of loads over long distances, Xinhua says, adding that the first flight was successful. The aircraft flew at Yanliang, the town near Xi’an that is the base of Avic Aircraft and almost certainly the location of Y-20 development and fabrication.

The Y-20 has been a gray project. While full details have been withheld, its existence has been acknowledged, and blurry pictures of its wind tunnel models released. In November 2009 it was supposed to be unveiled by the end of that year. But it was not, suggesting that the program hit some unexpected difficulty soon after the announcement.