RAF Brize Norton’s first Airbus A400M Atlas heavy transport plane is nearing completion at Airbus’s factory in Spain.

And personnel from the air station are in Seville undergoing training on the plane, ahead of its arrival in West Oxfordshire later this year.

The turboprop aircraft will replace the base’s Hercules fleet and combine the Hercules’s ability to land on rough airstrips with the long range of the RAF’s Boeing C17 Globemaster jets.

The Atlas can carry 32 tonnes of cargo, including armoured vehicles and helicopters, or 116 paratroops and their equipment.

The RAF has 22 planes on order, at a cost of more than £3.2bn.

Once training and testing are complete, the first operational flights are expected to be made next March.

Flight Lieutenant Chris Aston, 34, a former Hercules pilot and a member of 24 Squadron, and French air force pilot Lieutenant Colonel Ben Paillard, 36, are both learning to fly the aircraft in a simulator.

Flt Lt Aston said: “It has been good to get different ideas in the way we operate.’’