A revolutionary new South African-designed and developed aircraft, destined for a significant role in a wide range of civilian and military tasks around the world, was unveiled in Pretoria today.
The Advanced High-Performance Reconnaissance Light Aircraft (AHRLAC) is set to take the aviation market by storm, challenging dominant Western manufacturers with its low acquisition cost, reduced requirement for maintenance support and extensive operational capabilities.
AHRLAC is being developed by Africa's largest privately held defence company, Paramount Group, and aeronautical engineering and manufacturing experts Aerosud.
The two partners conservatively estimate that AHRLAC has the potential to generate annual revenue of up to R4-billion (US $500 million).
Manufacture is expected to take place in and around the Centurion Aerospace Village (CAV) the highly successful industry-clustering initiative that continues to grow next to the Waterkloof Air Force Base, Pretoria.
Ivor Ichikowitz, Executive Chairman of the Paramount Group, unveiled AHRLAC at the Aerosud development complex within the CAV. He told guests at the unveiling that AHRLAC stands for significantly more than the aircraft itself.
"AHRLAC deserves to be recognised as an amazing African achievement. Throughout our challenging history, Africans have developed a reputation for resilience and innovation. As many challenges as the world has thrown at us, we have overcome."
Dr Paul Potgieter, Managing Director of Aerosud and driving force behind the design and technical innovations of AHRLAC, says AHRLAC offers a highly flexible form of "clip-on-clip-off" payload system which enables it to be transformed quickly between operational roles. It can stay in the air for seven to 10 hours, making it the ideal solution for patrolling large land areas, borders and oceans.
The two-crew aircraft can carry out a wide range of operations including surveillance, policing, border/coastal patrol and anti-smuggling; armed patrol and counter insurgency operations; disaster relief and emergency supply to remote areas; and intelligence gathering.
Potgieter says AHRLAC is special because it offers maximum platform flexibility for multi-role applications, from basic visual reconnaissance to advanced electronic surveillance, and intelligence, to armed patrol.
"The design is modular so as to support maximum basic airframe commonality for the various configurations and rapid role change ability," he says.
"AHRLAC is capable of rapid deployment and fast response times with high cruise and dash speed and extended range. Because of the operational simplicity of this aircraft, in times of need, we can get this thing on the road to areas where it is required with limited support assistance."
Potgieter says key features of AHRLAC include its "push propeller" design and high wing for crew visibility, high cruise and dash speeds (maximum cruise speed is 300 knots), payload capacity of 800kg with full fuel and two crew, large operating range (1 150 nautical miles on internal fuel) and Short Take-Off and Landing (STOL) capability, including from semi-prepared landing strips, with a take-off distance 550m with full payload.
AHRLAC also has an armed patrol capability with 20mmm cannon, rocket pods and beyond visual range air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles across four to six wing hard points.
Ichikowitz expects AHRLAC to be a strong challenger to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).
"With AHRLAC we provide a new, affordable, flexible and robust alternative to UAVs, opening new operational capabilities to a variety of new users," says Ichikowitz.
Potgieter adds: "With AHRLAC we have developed a revolutionary aircraft that will maintain the dominant role of the pilot in civil and military flight.
"We believe that the pilot remains core to conducting effective air operations. In AHRLAC we have produced an aircraft that is, unlike most UAVs, both autonomously capable and offers high survivability, with none of the sub-systems costs related to the operation of UAVs.
"AHRLAC addresses the limitations of pilotless aircraft in a package which is flexible, reliable and offers excellent value for money. AHRLAC can go places and deliver missions, both civil and military, which a UAV simply cannot."
The AHRLAC programme already includes a full scale concept development model, cockpit layout model, and experimental development model for extensive wind tunnel testing and refinement.
Ichikowitz argues that knowledge-based industrialisation that a project such as AHRLAC provides is essential to developing higher sustainable rates of economic growth, and therefore jobs.
"Global experience proves that high-tech areas can multiply job creation in related sectors by up to eight times the number of people they employ. In addition, continued growth in engineering, design, technical and related trades means that we will be creating jobs at a high level," says Ichikowitz.
The entire development of AHRLAC has taken place at the Aerosud premises within the CAV. Development of the CAV has been supported by the Department of Trade and Industry to help develop a node of industrial clustering of aerospace and defence technology, design and manufacturing activities.
In addition, the CAV is a hub for industrial growth, skills development and job creation. Clustering of related companies and skills will also stimulate new SMME entrants through mentoring and support by key industry leaders. The CAV also promotes logistic efficiency through co-location, sharing of resources and capital infrastructure.
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