The first of five PC-7 Mk II trainers for the Botswana Defence Force Air Wing has been completed and is flying, paving the way for deliveries, which will conclude at the end of this year.
The first aircraft was seen undertaking its first ground engine test on May 8 outside the Pilatus factory at Stans, Switzerland, in full Air Wing markings. It first flew on May 14.
On April 13 last year Botswana has ordered five new PC-7 Mk II turboprop trainers to replace its existing fleet of PC-7s, which are more than two decades old. The contract is valued at approximately 40 million Swiss Francs (286,939,000 Botswana Pula/US$44.8 million) and includes spares, support equipment and a comprehensive ground based training system that includes computer based training aids and training for pilots and technicians.
According to Pilatus, the five aircraft will be delivered at the end of this year, enabling the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) to transition to the PC-7 Mk II during the course of 2013.
“The decision confirms the continued trust that the Botswana Defence Force places in Pilatus and the Pilatus aircraft as a training system,” Pilatus said in a statement following the signing of the contract. “Pilatus Aircraft Ltd is committed to continue serving the BDF, a long standing partner of Pilatus, with its world renowned dedication to Swiss precision and quality,” the company added.
The Botswana Defence Force currently operates a fleet of three PC-7s, the most recent of which entered service in 1990. It originally had eight, but five have been lost to attrition – on October 20 last year, two PC-7s collided in mid-air. Although all four pilots ejected, one died of injuries received during the crash.
The Air Wing of the Botswana Defence Force operates 14 Canadair CF-5 Freedom Fighters. It next most important aircraft are its PC-7s, which can be armed.
The new PC-7s will be operated by Z7 Squadron at Thebephatshwa (Molepolole) Air Base.
Meanwhile, Pilatus is in the midst of upgrading the cockpits of the South African Air Force’s 35-strong fleet. In 1993 neighbouring South Africa purchased 60 PC-7 Mk IIs for US$175 million to replace its North American Harvards in what was the country’s first post-apartheid defence purchase. It was also the first order for the PC-7 Mk II variant, which combines features of the PC-7 and PC-9. Deliveries began in October 1994.
In 2007 South Africa contracted Pilatus to upgrade the cockpits of 35 aircraft at a cost of approximately R400 million under Project Ithambo. The first upgraded aircraft was handed over in July 2010. Modified aircraft have full glass cockpits enabling pilots to be trained in all weathers.