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Ahrlac reaches 300 hour testing milestone as full production nears

Mwaris.The first prototype Ahrlac aircraft, built by Paramount and Ahrlac Holdings, has exceeded 300 testing hours and been joined by a second prototype as the factory gears up for full production of the Ahrlac and its military variant the Mwari.

Paramount on 6 February said the new Ahrlac factory at Wonderboom is fully operational. “It incorporates the latest flow-processes and computerized shop floor management systems that tracks and monitors every part throughout the production process,” Paramount said, resulting in reduced costs.

Various machining capabilities have been established, meaning that very little machining will have to be out-sourced. A key feature has been the manufacture of the first indigenous hydraulics pumps, paving the way to Ahrlac/Mwari being totally free from export restrictions (other than normal COTS parts acquisition), Paramount said. The Canadian PT6 engine, however, is subject to American export restrictions.

The manufacturing and production of around 80 percent, in weight, and over 50 percent in value, of the aircraft is done in house. Around 98 percent of the approximately 6 000 non-engine parts are locally produced. For maximum self-sufficiency, Paramount has invested in machine tools for milling, forming, pressing, and 3D printing. A number of large five axis milling machines are used for the production of core parts on the factory floor. In partnership with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Paramount is developing a 3D printer for the production of titanium parts.

This year the factory is expected to produce between four and six Ahrlacs, ramping up to between 18 and 24 in 2020 and thereafter reaching the planned maximum of 36. Although there are launch customers for the Ahrlac (production has been sold out for the next five years), these have not been named.

Ahrlac Holdings employs about 120 people and there are plans to hire more engineers to develop the special missions roles of the aircraft.

The first Ahrlac prototype (XDM) has undergone 300 hours of testing, and has seen a number of sensors being integrated, including Argos II/PAT 420 stabilised electro-optical sight (EOS) with a high-powered laser designator, Thales Avni wide area infrared line scanner and synthetic aperture search radar. XDM has been deployed to remote and unprepared air strips (such as in Botswana), enrolled in long missions at high temperatures, and flown in varying coastal conditions. With the successful completion of the second deployment to the remotely Kleinzee area, on the West Coast of South Africa’s Northern Cape Province, as part of the testing for austere environment deployment, the development role of the XDM prototype is now complete, Paramount said.

The second prototype (PDM) is currently undergoing testing as well after first flying on 14 July 2017. The production ready PDM aircraft has a range of new features, including revised cockpit canopies with OBOGS (on-board oxygen generation system), retractable landing gear, mission systems, newer Martin Baker ejection seats, more sophisticated avionics system, with open architecture, which allows for ‘plug and play’ operations, lighter 8G rated airframe, and a new quieter propeller and exhaust system.

Paramount Group and Ahrlac Holdings originally planned to produce three Ahrlac prototypes: XDM, ADM and PDM, but this proved unnecessary because of the advanced design and development processes used by the design team.

“What we have done is to design the first two prototypes on the most advanced new digital modules of Catia, Catia kinematics, plus extensive simulation and CFD analysis,” said Dr Paul Potgieter, Director, Ahrlac Holdings. “So we have effectively employed the very latest, state-of-the-art digital prototyping methods. By the time we built the first prototype that aircraft was built to semi-production standards or production like standards. The second prototype is fully to production standards.”

Weapons trials for the armed Mwari variant of the aircraft are expected in the coming months. The Mwari has been demonstrated carrying Mokopa anti-tank guided missiles but reportedly also has the capability to carry 20 mm cannon pods, 70 mm guided rockets, and Mk 81 precision-guided munitions.

Paramount has a cooperation agreement with Boeing for the integration of weapons systems and avionics as well as maintenance, repair, and overhaul. One client plans to fit an American air-to-ground missile to the aircraft.

One of the Ahrlac/Mwari’s other key features is an Interchangeable Multi-Mission Pod System (IMPS) under the aircraft’s cockpit. The interchangeable pod allows a single airframe to be used in multiple roles with nearly zero down time between role changes. The pod can carry various systems ranging from electronic intelligence, communications intelligence, search and rescue, forward-looking infrared and cargo.

Ivor Ichikowitz, Founder and Executive Chairman of Paramount Group said: “We have made tremendous progress in the last few months to take Ahrlac into production at our new facility in South Africa. This is a very exciting time for us, our partners and customers who are anticipating the arrival of the aircraft and its unique capabilities on the global market.

“It brings us one step closer to addressing a key industry need – the capability to conduct numerous missions, in a variety of environments that previously required multiple aircraft. It offers a cost-effective solution to maintaining aeronautical relevance and effectiveness in an increasingly demanding, and ever changing world.

“The Ahrlac aircraft and its military version, the Mwari, both in their design and operational capabilities are real game-changers for the aerospace industry. We have created a truly-intelligent 'SMART' platform. We have not simply created an armed variant of a civilian crop-duster, but produced an aircraft designed for ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] and CAS [close air support] missions in every millimetre of its design. It is designed for purpose - specifically for the kind of remote, hybrid ISR and CAS missions that the world’s air forces are increasingly being called upon to perform.

“This aircraft is ideally suited to be equipped with weapons systems that fit in perfectly with the inventory of any air force, where the mission requires that they be able to see and detect, track and transmit data and, if necessary, to strike with surgical effect,” Ichikowitz said.