Braddick Specialised Air Services (BSAS), whose precursor Wonder Air converted the South African Air Force’s (SAAF’s) C-47s to turbine power in the 1980/90s, is still supporting these venerable aircraft with airframe and aircraft support systems.
Starting in 1989, Project Felstone aimed at converting 40 Dakotas, but only 12 were converted to C-47TP (C-47-65ARTP) standard and stayed in the SAAF. 35 Squadron based at Ysterplaat in Cape Town has eight operational.
Braddick Specialised Air Services (BSAS/Braddick Defense) is one of the SAAF’s support and engineering partners of the Dakota fleet and continues to market, support, engineer and modify the DC-3s into modernised turbine airframes with military and commercial clients/operators around the globe.
The turboprop conversion pioneered by Gert de Klerk and his company Wonder Air involved fitting Pratt & Whitney PT6A-65AR engines as well as avionics upgrades, fuselage extensions, performance improvements, structural enhancements etc.
Adam McCallum, Director of Braddick Defense Systems, told defenceWeb that Braddick continues to provide a lot of support in conjunction with the SAAF’s DC-3/C-47 support team at AFB Waterkloof’s 5ASU (5 Aerial Support Unit) and at the moment the Braddick engineering team is producing, developing and certifying several critical airframe and aircraft support systems.
BSAS offers three versions of the turbine DC-3/C-47 turbine depending on Pratt & Whitney engine options, which vary in power from 1 424 shp to 1 600 shp. The PT6A-67F powered variant provides an additional 2 200 lb relative hot and high take-off performance at 1 600 shp.
Modifying a DC-3/C-47 to turbine powered aircraft does not just involve replacement of the engines. BSAS does a complete airframe inspection for corrosion, hidden damage, previous damage and repairs before overhauling the airframe. A 40 inch fuselage extension is then installed along with a reinforced wing and fuselage. Hypothetically, after conversion, the aircraft is delivered as a “new” aircraft and airframe, flight hours and cycles of the airframe and undercarriage are not however zero’d and after conversion the airframe continues to accumulate the hours and cycles that began when the airframes rolled out of the factory in the 1930s/1940s.
The PT6A-65AR/67R/67F engines are fitted with five blade Hartzell propellers. Installation involves new engine mounts, firewalls, main fuel tank and engine cowling oil coolers. New instrumentation and controls and a de-icing system are also installed and the flight controls are modified. A new electrical system involves all new wiring throughout the aircraft. The fuel and hydraulics systems are also heavily modified.
Apart from the South African Air Force, BSAS supports a fleet of other commercial turboprop DC-3/C-47s that have flown and/or continue to fly for clients such as the Red Cross, Missionary Flights International, United Nations and Samaritan’s Purse in countries such as South Sudan, Somalia and the Caribbean. McCallum said several contracts were in the works internationally and BSAS is gearing up to expand its operations.
In addition to supporting SAAF C-47TPs, Braddick is also assisting with the installation of Saab’s Impi Blue Force Tracker onto several SAAF aircraft. Launched in 2011 by Saab Systems South Africa, the 0.6 kg device can either be fitted onto vehicles, aircraft or naval vessels as well as be carried by soldiers. The Impi incorporates a GSM modem, allowing a cell phone network to transmit the tracks. Where no cellphone coverage is available, an embedded Iridium satellite modem is used. It also has a mil-standard data connection, allowing the utilisation of HF, VHF and UHF radios to transmit the tracks.
The system has been flight certified for use by the Air Force, with the installations on the Rooivalk conducted under the auspices of Denel. The entire Rooivalk fleet have now been installed with the blue force tracking devices, and the SAAF’s C-130 fleet is presently undergoing permanent installation of the tracking system, with which the Braddick engineering team is involved, in partnership with Saab Grintek Defence. The Oryx is also having the Impi permanently fitted into the helicopter, connected to the aircraft’s power supply.
Also on the aviation side, Braddick is heavily involved in the development of the Sovereign S-300 lockwing unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), which combines rotary and fixed wing flight. The S-300 is the brainchild of Dr. Becker van Niekerk of Marenco Engineering Technologies Africa. The company, which has worked with the Denel Group and the SA Air Force on several advanced engineering projects, has also assisted in the development of the Marenco Swiss Helicopter.
BSAS has its main headquarters based in Centurion, Pretoria. Partnering with Preferred Air Parts of Kidron, Ohio, the BSAS support chain expands to the US market.