South Africa’s home-grown homeland security aircraft – the Paramount Group AHRLAC – is on the move. At the weekend the first prototype was towed to Pretoria’s Wonderboom airport ahead of an extensive programme of flight testing.
The Sunday “drive” from the Aerosud facility where it was built, on the eastern side of AFB Waterkloof in Centurion, created its own traffic chaos with many motorists on the N14 and N1 highways having to make way for the single-engined, high-wing aircraft being pulled by a Land Rover to its new base at the Tshwane metro-owned airport on the north-eastern side of Pretoria.
Paramount Group, with their technical partner Aerosud, developed the AHRLAC (Advanced High Performance Reconnaissance and Surveillance Aircraft) as a new aerial platform to fulfil a wide range of missions from border patrol, internal security and defence to disaster management and environmental protection.
Programme leader, Paul Potgieter (Junior), pointed out on the aviation chat site Avcom that he, his team and their aircraft were not given free passage through Gauteng’s notorious e-toll gantries on the move to Wonderboom.
“I think we’ve found an e-toll loop,” he posted followed minutes later by “Nope, they made us pay”.
The move to actual flight testing follows more than 80 successful flights of a quarter scale model as part of the overall development of the aircraft which was first made public in September 2011. While scale model flight testing was underway work was progressing on construction of prototype one (registered as ZU-XDM).
The AHRLAC team, numbering around 60 of what Aerosud founder and chief executive, Dr Paul Potgieter terms his “team of young Turks”, had initially hoped to start flight testing last September.
While at Wonderboom, chosen by the AHRLAC team as flight test base because of its location adjacent to two general flying areas (GFAs), a military flying area and a highway in the middle as an emergency backup, ZU-XDM will initially complete at least 100 flight hours.
Potgieter Junior said the decision to use Wonderboom as opposed to AFB Waterkloof, literally on Aerosud’s doorstep, was made because it is close to non-built up areas.
“Waterkloof is in a built-up area and a long way from an open area where flight testing can be safely undertaken,” he said, adding another option was to make use of the SA Air Force’s (SAAF) Test Flight and Development Centre (TFDC) at Bredasdorp in the Western Cape.
“Bredasdorp is ideal but it is hugely expensive and disruptive to transplant the entire AHRLAC team there.”
The first 100 hours of flight testing will have as its major aim to expand AHRLAC’s flight envelope and “get to know her well” he said.
Designated “driver” for this period is internationally respected South African test pilot “Blokkies” Joubert who will be assisted by another test pilot, Lance Wellington. Both are members of the Incomar Aeronautics team, a Centurion-based company specialising in flight testing and logistics support.
Potgieter told defenceWeb he doesn’t see flight testing ever actually coming to an end on AHRLAC.
“The aircraft is designed to accommodate different mission sets and equipment. This, coupled to continuous upgrades and new systems will be very much part of her life for a long time. The prototype will also be the base for testing client equipment requirements,” he said.
Key features of AHRLAC include its pusher propeller design powered by a Pratt and Whitney engine and high wing for crew visibility, high cruise and dash speeds (maximum cruise speed is 300 knots), payload capacity of 800 kg with full fuel and two crew, long 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 of 550 metres with full payload.
Ivor Ichikowitz, Paramount Group chief executive, last year said AHRLAC was “special” because of its maximum platform flexibility and multi-role applications ranging from visual reconnaissance to advanced electronic surveillance and intelligence and armed patrol.
“The design is modular so as to support maximum basic airframe commonality for the various configurations and rapid role change ability.
“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 it to areas where it is required with limited support assistance,” Ichikowitz said.