Development of the Y-9 may have begun as early as 2002 as the Y-8X program. The program was a collaborative effort with Antonov - the designers of the An-12 that it was ultimately derived from - and was aimed at competing with the Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules. By September 2005, the Y-9 designation was being used. The Y-9 received design features originally intended for the Y-8F600, which was cancelled in 2008.
Shaanxi had hoped to conduct the first flight as early as 2006, but it was delayed. Design changes were made in 2006, with the design being frozen by January 2010. After the design freeze, it was suggested that the first flight would depend on securing a launch customer; construction had also not yet commenced. The aircraft finally flew in November 2010.
The cruise speed is 300 knots (560 km/h; 350 mph) with an endurance of around 10.5 hours.
The Y-9 is designed for 25 tons of cargo but can reportedly carry up to 30 tons.
The aircraft can carry up to 106 passengers, 132 paratroopers, or 72 stretchers. Alternatively, it can carry two ZBD-03 airborne combat vehicles, which can be paradropped. The Y-9 can carry various other military vehicles, including light trucks, cargo containers or pallets.
The cargo bay has an internal volume of 155 m3. It is fitted with cargo handling rollers and tie-down rings. The rear cargo door serves as a ramp.
Some special purpose variants such as the Y-9G (GX-11) have the rear ramp door removed.