What is being billed as Africa’s first wholly designed and built military aircraft, the Paramount Group’s Advanced High-Performance Reconnaissance Light Aircraft (AHRLAC), reached a significant milestone with its maiden flight on 7 August.
The aircraft makes its 'official public' first flight on 13 August.
The initial prototype, or Experimental Demonstrator (XDM), will prove flight characteristics and test the aircraft’s performance. A second prototype under construction, the Advanced Demonstrator (ADM), will be used to test the AHRLAC’s mission and weapon systems, as well as its Martin-Baker Mk 17 ejection seat.
Conceived as an affordable intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and light-strike platform to address the lower end of that growing market niche, the tandem twin-seat AHRLAC is powered by a Pratt & Whitney PT6a-66 950 hp pusher turboprop. It is designed to offer a payload with full fuel in excess of 800 kg and provide an endurance of more than 7.5 hours.
Since the launch of the AHRLAC project in September 2011 the Paramount team has spent 315,000 hours on the design and construction of the first prototype. Of the aircraft's 6,000 parts, 98% were designed using sophisticated CATIA software and produced locally by the engineering team.
AHRLAC Holdings CEO Paul Potgieter, the project's programme leader, told IHS Jane's that pre-designing each part of the aircraft on computer enabled jig-less construction, saving both time and cost.
“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 manufacturers,” he added.
The flight test aircraft, now based at Wonderboom Airport, north of Pretoria, was moved from the Centurion facility of Paramount subsidiary Aerosud, which has acted as the project’s technical subcontractor.
The AHRLAC's initial 20-hour flight test programme will compare actual flight data with computer-generated data/models to ensure the aircraft is performing to expectations. A mobile flight test monitoring vehicle is positioned in the flight test area and the team has a Pilatus PC-12 ‘chase plane’ fitted with diagnostic equipment available at every test flight. Advanced flight testing will continue for the full lifecycle of the aircraft and will factor in specific customer requirements.
In addition to ISR and light-attack missions, the multirole AHRLAC’s innovative pod-based design opens up potential roles in disaster management, internal security, border control, maritime patrol, and environmental protection, said Paramount.
Paramount Group Executive Chairman Ivor Ichikowitz told IHS Jane's: “Aerospace is vital for South Africa’s economy. This project is an excellent reflection of the capabilities of the country’s engineering fraternity. The incredible progress made by local engineers has put them at the forefront of global aerospace innovation and their joint expertise has turned them into pathfinders, who are proudly setting new milestones through continuous innovation.”