Innovative South African Lightplane To Fly Next Year

 - October 5, 2012, 11:50 AM
A quarter-scale flying model of Paramount's AHRLAC has contributed to the light aircraft's aerodynamic design.

Paramount’s innovative AHRLAC (advanced high-performance reconnaissance light aircraft) program is advancing rapidly, with the first prototype now in the final stages of construction. The South African company intends to fly the first machine next year, but will not give a more exact schedule.

Conceived in late 2009, the AHRLAC is the first fixed-wing aircraft to be designed and built completely in Africa. It is intended to fill a niche for a purpose-designed light attack/reconnaissance aircraft that can be employed for patrol, homeland security and counter-insurgency duties. Paramount has identified a requirement for such an aircraft, since the types that are currently employed in these roles are either compromised conversions of trainers or expensive-to-operate fighters. A mock-up was unveiled in September 2011, and the design has undergone some subtle changes since that time.

Designed by a team from Paramount’s partner Aerosud (in which Paramount has a sizeable stake), the AHRLAC is a high-wing twin-boom aircraft powered by a 950-shp Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-66B turboprop. The aircraft has a low landing speed and rugged undercarriage for operations from short, unprepared strips, and its steeply stepped tandem two-seat cockpit gives both occupants superb visibility. The stepped cockpit design provides a large bay under the rear cockpit for the carriage of sensor packages, and the aircraft can accommodate an internal gun. Further weaponry can be carried on underwing pylons.

The AHRLAC has been designed entirely digitally, and its construction is pioneering a number of advanced techniques, such as the adaptation of rapid prototyping powder-laying processes for production, and the use of computer numerically controlled (CNC) machining for producing wing skins. Computational fluid dynamics, wind tunnel tests and a flying scale model have contributed to the detailed aerodynamic design.

The AHRLAC is being built in the Paramount/Aerosud Innovation Centre next to Aerosud’s main factory, which makes parts for Airbus (including the A400M), Boeing and Eurofighter. The complex is at the center of the Centurion Aerospace Village high-technology cluster on the southern side of Waterkloof AFB, near Pretoria.

Paramount plans an initial pre-production batch of three aircraft for testing. The wings and tailbooms of the first aircraft are essentially complete and the powerplant has been delivered. Trials with the instrumented quarter-scale model have been conducted at Waterkloof AFB, controlled remotely from a suitably equipped vehicle. Full-scale flight trials are due to begin next year, with the South African test center at AFB Overberg earmarked as a possible location.