South Africa’s AHRLAC Advances Toward Production

 - September 22, 2016, 7:37 AM
The AHRLAC sported a multi-sensor fit at the Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) show last week (Photo: David Donald)

With at least two launch customers signed up, the South African AHRLAC (Advanced High-performance Reconnaissance Light AirCraft) is scheduled to enter production next year. Unveiled at the Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) show at Waterkloof in 2014, the prototype AHRLAC (ZU-XDM) returned to the 2016 show last week with more than 250 hours of flight test accomplished. AHRLAC Holdings is producing the aircraft; the Paramount Group is a major shareholder in this company.

The PT-6A-powered aircraft has undertaken four deployments to the border and to Botswana to conduct operationally representative trials, including landing on a range of surfaces such as compact sand and gravel. The aircraft was also flown on an ad hoc trial during recent civil unrest in South Africa.

A second development aircraft is due to fly around the end of the year. As well as having retractable landing gear, which has already undertaken 2,000 cycles in the ground rig, the second aircraft will have a full mission system in both cockpits, with a revised front cockpit display with larger screens. The airframe is lighter but is rated at 8g. The AHRLAC is due to be certified for +7g/-4g. Aircraft No. 2 will also be able to carry conformal fuel tanks that are being developed for carriage under the tailbooms. With these fitted, the AHRLAC will be capable of a 2,000-nm ferry range.

With open architecture, a reconfigurable nose and a large mission bay for avionics beneath the two-person cockpit, the AHRLAC can adopt different mission packages with speed and ease. At the AAD show, the aircraft was displayed with an Airbus Defence and Space Argos II electro-optical turret in the nose, slaved to a helmet-mounted display complete with in-cockpit head-tracker sensors. In the mission bay the aircraft carried a Thales Avni infrared line-scanner for wide area imagery, and a GEW Technologies pointing antenna providing passive detection across the 3Hz to 7MHz range, able to spot and track the RF emissions from cellphones, among others. A belly-mounted EO turret was tested earlier, and the aircraft is fitted with a radar warning receiver system.

The rear cockpit has a 21-inch large screen display fitted, but does not yet have full mission equipment. The front seat, however, is equipped with a cleared Martin-Baker Mk 16 ejection seat and production-standard sidestick, complete with full HOTAS functions.

At AAD the prototype was configured for ground display with dummy Mokopa missiles and GPS-guided bombs under the starboard wing to represent the Mwari light attack/armed ISR platform. Howvever, the prototype is only stressed to 4g and is unlikely to undertake any weapons trials. Any weaponization of the aircraft would be undertaken by Paramount Advanced Technology (formerly ATE) rather than by AHRLAC Holdings. An armed Mwari version could be produced with ITAR-free equipment, or including some restricted U.S. equipment for certain customers through Paramount’s MoU with Boeing.

A new factory is being completed at Wonderboom airfield, near Pretoria, and is expected to produce two aircraft in 2017, one each for the first two customers. After that the production rate could ramp up to a maximum rate of two aircraft per month. There is sufficient available space to double the size of the facility, which also includes a flight-test department. The prototype was built in a workshop adjacent to the Aerosud factory at Waterkloof AFB.