At AAD two years ago the AHRLAC multimission aircraft made a starring appearance in its public debut. At the time it had about 20 hours on the clock and was an austere prototype. Now the aircraft has returned to Waterkloof with some 250 hours under its belt, four trials deployments to its name, and with an impressive array of mission systems installed.
AHRLAC is the unarmed version of the aircraft, which was developed here as a co-operative venture between Paramount and Aerosud.
One side of the aircraft has been loaded for static display with dummy Mokopa missiles and GPS-guided Mk 81 bombs to represent the Mwari, the armed version. Paramount would undertake any weaponisation efforts, distinct from the AHRLAC concern.
Already AHRLAC is a veteran of a number of trials campaigns with various sensor fits. The open architecture, reconfigurable nose and large sensor bay of the aircraft allow different sensors to be integrated very rapidly. Not only does this aid development of the aircraft and evaluation of its suitability for various roles, but also provides the donor sensor manufacturers with data for their own use.
Currently the AHRLAC carries a sensor fit of an Airbus DS Argos II electro-optical turret in the nose, linked to an Airbus helmet-mounted sight, with helmet trackers situated either side of the pilot’s seat.
Underneath the fuselage is a Thales Avni infrared linescan unit, which gives a wide-area imaging capability. Behind that is a pointing antenna from GEW Technologies.
This provides a passive detection capability against frequencies in the 3Hz to 7MHz range, and can spot and track RF emissions such as those from cellphones. AHRLAC has also been tested with a forward-looking infrared turret projecting from the belly sensor bay, and is fitted with a radar warning receiver system.
Equipped with sensors, AHRLAC has been deployed for trials to Botswana and along the South African border to test its surveillance capabilities. It has also been operated over a civil unrest incident.
Other developments for the aircraft include the installation of a Martin-Baker Mk 16 ejection seat in the sidestick-equipped front cockpit. Seat clearance was undertaken by the UK company at its facility at Chalgrove. Along with the seat, the AHRLAC features miniature detonating cord embedded in the canopy to shatter the glass on ejection. The aircraft has also undertaken some aerobatic clearance work.
Nearing completion and expected to fly around the end of the year is a second AHRLAC development aircraft, which will be much closer to the production configuration. The aircraft will have full dual controls with a revised front cockpit display. It will be fitted with the intended retractable undercarriage, which has already undergone about 2,000 cycles in a ground rig. The rear seat, which already boasts a 21in splittable screen, will have an ejection seat installed, and the production-standard sidestick, which has full hands-on-throttle-and-stick capability. The airframe is lighter than that of the first aircraft, but the second carries more mission systems.
Other differences are an airframe rated for 8g rather than the 4g of the initial machine. Production aircraft are to be certified for +7g/-4g. Aircraft no. 2 will also be able to carry conformal ferry fuel tanks that have been designed to fit under the tail-booms.
These will give the AHRLAC a range in the order of 2,000 nautical miles.
Following the two development aircraft, production is due to start at a new factory and flight test facility currently under construction at Wonderboom airfield. This facility is sized to produce two aircraft per month, although there is sufficient room to build a mirror facility to double the production rate.
The first two production machines are to be produced during next year, destined for delivery to undisclosed launch customers.