The first Chinese-built passenger jet took to the skies for its maiden flight on Friday, a hugely symbolic moment for a country seeking to transform its image from a producer of cheap factory goods to a technological leader.
The C919 passenger jet has been billed as China’s answer to Boeing's 737 and the Airbus A320 and the country's first step in challenging western domination of the lucrative aviation market.
State television screened a live broadcast of the narrow-bodied aircraft taking off from Shanghai’s Pudong Airport, with thousands of dignitaries and aviation workers clapping as it soared into the cloudy sky for its 90-minute journey.
The official Xinhua News Agency said China was now "one of the world's top makers of jumbo aircraft” after it became the fourth jumbo jet producer after the US, Europe and Russia.
The state media also said it marked a “milestone” for the Commercial Aircraft Corp of China (COMAC), the Shanghai-based manufacturer of C919.
China is a huge market for the aviation industry, with air travel in the country expected to surpass the United States by 2024, according to the International Air Transport Association.
By 2035 a market of 1.3 million passengers will see Chinese airlines spending more than $1 trillion on new aircraft.
COMAC says it already has 570 orders from 23 customers.
The C919 relies on an array of overseas technology, with CFM International, a joint venture between General Electric's aerospace arm and a unit of French firm Safran supplying the engines.
It would take two to three years for the aircraft to reach the market, sources at COMAC told Chinese media on Friday.
But Qi Qi, an associate professor at Guangzhou Civil Aviation College, said it could take up to five years before mass production, and then at least another five years before the aircraft has caught up with Airbus and Boeing.
“I am not optimistic about the C919. I remain neutral," said Mr Qi, ahead of the test flight, which was delayed for a year following manufacturing problems.
“The test flight is just the first step of a Long March for the industry,” he added, referring to an arduous retreat by Mao Tse-tung’s Communists in the 1930s, which is sometimes mentioned in modern China in relation to long-term, difficult projects.
“We can’t say that everything is going perfectly even if the test goes well,” he added. “It still has a long way to go.”