DA 42 gaining popularity in Africa as a surveillance aircraft

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A growing number of nations in Africa, and specifically West Africa, are operating Diamond Aircraft’s DA 42 MPP Guardian surveillance aircraft, especially for counter-piracy duties and the company is consequently optimistic about the type’s prospects on the continent.

Ghana, Nigeria and Niger are known to have purchased the type for surveillance and pilot training. Niger has flown two DA 42s since 2009 while Nigeria’s Presidential Ministerial Committee on Maritime Security (PICOMMS) operates the type. The agency was set up to protect Nigeria’s maritime domain and oil and gas installations. It also monitors vessels at sea in order to combat illegal bunkering, sea robberies and piracy.

Ghana’s Air Force recently took delivery of two DA 42MPPs for surveillance, which were ordered in August last year (a third DA 42 has been acquired for training). Ghana may eventually acquire up to six DA 42s.

Bernhard Gruber, Fleet Sales Manager at Diamond Aircraft, said the DA 42 MPP was being aimed at African markets, as there is big demand for surveillance platforms in the region. “We think we have very good chances with the platform because of its flexibility and fuel use,” Gruber said. He added that “we have a lot of interest” and Diamond was “definitely optimistic” about the aircraft’s prospects.

The civil version of the DA 42 was displayed at the Africa Aerospace and Defence exhibition held at Air Force Base Waterkloof outside Pretoria last month. It was brought out in partnership with South Africa’s National Airways Corporation, which is a Diamond Aircraft Regional Distribution Centre.

South Africa is looking for roughly half a dozen maritime surveillance/patrol aircraft to replace its 70-year-old C-47s under Project Saucepan, but Diamond is not counting on strong interest from the Air Force, which is believed to be seeking a large platform. “We hope the SAAF will be interested in the aircraft,” Gruber said. “They are aware of the capabilities of the aircraft. If the budget is there it is a cost effective solution.”

Gruber said that the DA 42 is good for low altitude and coastal surveillance and can compete with the Saab 340 Maritime Surveillance Aircraft and Airbus Military C295, even though it is much smaller. The DA 42 MPP has become a popular choice for surveillance, so much so that two thirds of Diamond’s revenue comes from military and government customers. Some of the military customers include the Royal Air Force, Ukraine’s Border Guard Service and the Royal Thai Air Force (which flies six for training and four for surveillance).

The Diamond DA 42 MPP (Multi-Purpose Platform) Guardian can be customised to carry a wide variety of equipment, in belly, spine or nose sensor pods. Sensors can include a forward-looking infrared camera, laser scanner, large format digital aerial camera etc. Sensor turrets can weigh up to 85 kg, depending on placement, while useful load is around 500 kg.

A microwave up- and down-link system allows for data transfers at a range of more than 100 nautical miles while a beyond-line-of-sight satellite link and other radios, including military radios, are available on the DA 42 MPP. The aircraft has been flown with a Scotty satellite link.

The DA 42 is powered by two Austro Engine AE300 diesel engines, developing 168 hp each, giving a maximum cruise speed of 328 km/h. The engines can run on Jet A, Jet A1 or JP-8 fuel. At 35% power (loiter speed) the aircraft consumes 24.2 litres per hour, giving a typical airborne operations time of six to eight hours. Maximum range is 2 218 km (1 452 miles). For stealthy operation, the DA 42 can be equipped with optional noise and infrared reduction kits.

The DA 42 can be flown as an unmanned vehicle, and was first tested in this configuration in 2009 by Aeronautics Defense Systems Ltd. The UAV variant has an endurance of 28 hours with a 400 kg payload.