The first public flight of its Advanced High-Performance Reconnaissance Light Aircraft (AHRLAC), at the Wonderboom Airport in Pretoria took place recently. AHRLAC is the first military fixed wing aircraft to be fully designed, tested and developed in Africa.
The aircraft, a global first, addresses a key industry need by performing the combined tasks that previously required four separately configured planes. It integrates designs from attack helicopters, surveillance platforms and reconnaissance aircraft with ability to carry surveillance, weapons, radar and electronic warfare systems. This has brought advanced operational solutions, historically requiring more costly aircraft or complex unmanned aerial surveillance systems.
AHRLAC is a ground-breaking example of what Africa is capable of producing and will be a key solution to bolster Africa’s capability to deal with its security issues. However, AHRLAC is not only a solution for Africa but for defence forces around the world, whether from developing countries or from nations with advanced and sophisticated defence capabilities.
AHRLAC has been specifically designed for both civilian and military tasking, and features a variety of configurations thanks to its innovative pod system design. These include patrol and reconnaissance with typical missions encompassing intelligence gathering and close air support. The aircraft can also be configured for training, cargo and light attack capabilities. This enables the aircraft for multi-role use which includes disaster management, internal security, border control, maritime patrol and environmental protection. AHRLAC also has the ability to carry a comprehensive weapons suite for specific mission applications.
The aircraft was designed and built by over 60 engineers and technicians. One of the most innovative aspects of the construction phase is that 98% of all 6 000 parts of the aircraft were designed and produced locally by the engineering team. Since the launch of the project in September 2011 the team spent 315 000 labour hours completing detailed designs and manufacturing the first prototype.
Dr Paul Potgieter, CEO AHRLAC Holdings says: “Every single part of the aircraft was pre-designed on a computer which allowed it to have a jigless construction. This means that every part fits together, much like a Meccano set, which saves vast amounts of money and time – especially when exporting globally”
“The jigless manufacture was made possible by parts being pre-drilled and machine made, allowing for accuracy, reduced need for hand skills and therefore less time to build.”
“We have made all the tools for production for all sheet metal pressings and composite parts so it enables us to hit production much quicker than other aircraft,” adds Potgieter.
Key local suppliers will include: Paramount Advanced Technologies, CSIR and Denel. Key global suppliers include Pratt and Whitney, Cobham and Zeiss.