Denel Saab Aerostructures completes ground tests on last Agusta A109 LUH


Denel Saab Aerostructures (DSA) has successfully completed a series of stringent ground tests on the last of 23 Agusta A109 Light Utility Helicopters it has assembled for the South African Air Force (SAAF) at its Kempton Park facility.

The SAAF ordered 30 of the aircraft in 1999 at a cost of R2.45 billion. The first five aircraft were scheduled to be built in Italy and the remainder in SA. In the event seven were delivered from Italy. Deliveries started in October 2005.

DSA says the tests mark the final stage of production and quality control before delivery of the rotorcraft to the SAAF on September 30.

The company says the ground tests involved various assessments to ensure that all components required for the aircraft to lift off the ground were in perfect working order.

All flight critical systems such as fuel, hydraulic, electrical, failure indication and basic flight control systems were therefore checked for correct functionality. The tests also included a basic communication system check.

“During the first minute the engine is running, a basic repeat of flight critical systems checks takes place,” says DSA CE Lana Kinley. ”These serve to monitor vibrations in the helicopter and ensure that oil, hydraulic and fuel system pressures are kept at optimal level.”

The tests then required the engines to be shut down to confirm that no leakages were present in the oil, hydraulic and fuel systems.

After subsequently restarting the engines, blade balancing and vibration adjustments assessments were undertaken while the helicopter hovered for the first time – with constant monitoring of flight critical parameters happening throughout.

The completion of the test renders the aircraft ready for in-air testing during which all the mechanical and avionic systems of the helicopter will be validated. The concluding flight test will certify the readiness of all high level avionics systems such as the navigation system and the automatic flight control (auto pilot).

During the nine years it took for the contract to be concluded, engineers from DSA participated (for a three year period) in designing the helicopter changes that were required by the SAAF.

DSA additionally established and stabilised the technologies used to manufacture detail sheet metal, mechanical and composite material parts of the aircraft, as well as performing structural and final assembly.

The company was also accredited as a supplier of vital dynamic assemblies of helicopter parts for the civilian and military market (i.e. main rotor blades and main rotor heads) and as a supplier of structural assemblies (such as fuselages and tail booms) during this time.

“The production programme for the Agusta A109 LUH was fully integrated into our strategy for skills development and product knowledge. This ensured optimal production flow, focusing on DSA`s core business as a dynamic and structural assemblies producer,” added Kinley.

“The successful fulfilment of this contract – in partnership with AgustaWestland – bodes well for DSA`s future in terms of securing similar contracts from other global suppliers,” Kinley says.

“It has also fostered stronger relations with the Italian company, thereby strengthening the South Africa`s position on the international list of aerostructures manufacturers.

But Denel CEO Talib Sadik in May warned that DSA was still posting losses. He will be announcing Denel`s annual results to March tomorrow in the late morning.