10 years ago, Airbus Military began working on a new transport aircraft that would take Europe into the next century of aerial warfare.
Backed by seven European members of NATO: Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom, the aircraft program suffered years of delays and cost €20 billion ($26.1 billion).
Now, the A400M Atlas is almost here.
Scheduled for first delivery to the French army in time for July 14 Bastille Day celebrations, the turboprop plane is designed to be capable of everything its new owners need, from midair refueling to paratrooper drop-offs to landings on short and unpaved runways.
It can even carry more than 80,000 tons of cargo, while remaining remarkably agile in the air.
And according to Airbus parent company EADS, even the Americans are interested.
The A400M cruises 37,000 feet above the ground, at Mach .72 (72% the speed of sound). It can fly more than 5,400 miles on a tank of gas.
Thanks to shock absorbing landing gear, it can touch down on unpaved airstrips, a key feature for use in emergency and military situations.
Debris on gravel runways poses less of a threat to the four turboprops than it would to jet engines.
Turboprops less sensitive to ingestion. And it can kneel! so angle of ramp reduced - faster loading, less vulnerable, less crew
That's big enough to hold a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, two heavy armoured vehicles, or a rescue boat. (This photo is of a full-size replica of the Atlas cargo hold, used for training.)
Max cargo weight is 81,600 pounds. There's also enough room for 116 fully equipped paratroopers, who can jump from the plane two at a time.
The tanker is designed to be autonomous, so it needs little ground support to load and unload supplies.
This is a military aircraft, so it's made to be agile and manoeuvrable. Aviation Week test pilot Fred George said 'the Atlas has some of the most capable avionics and flight controls ever fitted to a military transport.'
Because it can refuel other planes even helicopters in midair, and be refueled itself, it will keep Europe's military in the air.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.