AHRLAC, a joint venture between South Africa's Paramount Group and the Aerospace Development Corporation, began the final assembly of its first production AHRLAC light attack/ISR aircraft on September 19 at its new Wonderboom factory in Pretoria. The aircraft, MSN1, is one of two that will be completed before the end of the year for two separate customers. Both are to be completed in the Mwari ITAR-free armed configuration that is managed and marketed by Paramount. AHRLAC is also offered by Bronco Combat Systems in an ITAR-restricted, U.S.-targeted version known as Bronco II.
As this production milestone was reached, AHRLAC’s two development aircraft were participating in the Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) show, which is held biennially at Waterkloof air force base near Pretoria. The pair flew a formation routine. The second aircraft, designated PDM, is a production-representative machine that differs from the first, experimental XDM aircraft by having retractable landing gear, enlarged nose cone for housing sensors such as the Leonardo Osprey radar and electro-optic turrets, Martin-Baker Mk 16 ejection seats, and an onboard oxygen generating system. Between them, the two aircraft have amassed better than 500 flying hours.
Also at the AAD show, Paramount Advanced Technologies (PAT), formerly ATE, unveiled a new aircraft weaponization system. Known as Swift, it rapidly adds weapons capability to jet trainers and is aimed particularly at air forces with limited budgets. PAT announced a partnership with Leonardo during the show to collaborate on the development and marketing of a customized Swift system for the M-345 trainer. A full-scale mock-up of the M-345 was displayed at AAD, fitted with wing pylons for weapons. It was shown with Mokopa and Impi missiles from Denel Dynamics.
PAT displayed its Airbus Helicopters AS550 Fennec demonstrator for the Flash system, from which Swift was derived, alongside the M-345. Flash is an evolution of the SAWS (stand-alone weapon system) for arming helicopters that was initially developed by ATE and sold to Iraq for weaponizing 24 EC635s. An example of the latter with Flash installed was also on show.
Denel Dynamics announced that its A-Darter imaging infrared air-to-air missile has completed qualification trials with four test launches undertaken at the Denel Overberg Test Range. One firing tested lock-on after launch (LOAL) capability, one was a short-range “over-the-shoulder” launch in which the missile turned through 180 degrees after firing, and two were “blow-through” tests against targets employing countermeasures. All the firings were undertaken against Denel Skua targets and all were successful. The A-Darter is fully cleared for the South African Air Force’s Gripen C/D fighters.
Denel also unveiled a new C-RAM (counter rockets, artillery, mortars) missile known as Cheetah. Operating in a similar fashion to the Israeli Iron Dome system, Cheetah is intended to be deployed to protect bases and high-value assets and can be integrated seamlessly into other air defense systems. Denel has teamed with Rheinmetall Air Defence to offer Cheetah as an addition to the Oerlikon Skyshield gun-based system. Elements of the Cheetah are being tested in a Mongoose-3 trials interceptor, which has performed three successful test firings to date.
AAD draws a number of foreign exhibitors, including Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation, which was showing a model of the Il-112V light tactical airlifter for the first time. This project for an An-26 and An-72/74 replacement has had a long gestation, having started in 2003 before being canceled in 2011 and then resurrected in 2013. The prototype is virtually complete, and the new Klimov TV7-117S series 2 engine has been undergoing flight tests on an Il-76LL testbed since September last year. UAC has scheduled a roll-out ceremony at the Voronezh Aircraft Production Association that is building the Il-112V for October 26. First flight is due to take place in the first half of 2019.
AAD also attracts interesting visitors aside from company demonstration aircraft. This year the New York Air National Guard deployed a C-17 and an LC-130H “Ski-bird” Hercules sporting its newly installed UTC Aerospace Systems NP2000 eight-blade propellers. Both aircraft were attending in association with the long-standing relationship between the South African defense forces and the New York National Guard via the State Partner program.