The South African Air Force’s 18 surplus Pilatus Astras up for sale have still not found a buyer, while the 35 upgraded PC-7s that received new cockpit and navigation avionics have all re-entered service.
The South African Air Force (SAAF) purchased 60 PC-7 Mk IIs in 1993. As the aircraft were fitted with a South African developed avionics suite, they received the local name of Pilatus Astra. The locally-developed avionics degraded over the years and the original avionic manufacturer went out of business. This resulted in the Astra no longer being allowed to fly in Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC).
Under Project Ithambo, the PC-7 Avionics Replacement Programme, Pilatus Aircraft Ltd was awarded a contract in October 2008 to upgrade the avionics suites of 35 Astras. Some of the new avionics Pilatus installed include Honeywell cockpit instrumentation and new navigation equipment – a GPS antenna can be seen at the top of the vertical tail.
The first Astra to be upgraded flew in September 19 and arrived home at Langebaanweg on July 13 the following year. The project came to a close on May 16 this year, with the final aircraft being returned to service with Central Flying School at Air Force Base Langebaanweg on June 25, by Pilatus personnel deployed to South Africa. The last three aircraft to be upgraded were all Silver Falcons aerobatic team aircraft.
According to Thati Phalatse, Manager: Sales, Defence Materiel Disposal at Armscor, the surplus Astras are still being offered for sale, but no serious enquiries have yet been received. It is believed that the surviving Astras will have to be upgraded, as the original avionic system will not be supported. defenceWeb has also reliably learnt that the single Pratt &Whitney Canada PT6A-25C turboprop engine fitted to each surplus Astra is time expired and in need of a major overhaul before it can be used again.
The surplus Astras, along with surplus Cessna 185s and Samil trucks, were prominently displayed at Air Force Base Waterkloof at the Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) exhibition in September last year.
Phalatse told defenceWeb that Armscor still has nine ex-SAAF Cessna 185s available for sale, but the paperwork is still being sorted out, with the verification process underway. He added that the Samils on display at AAD last year are no longer being offered, as they have presumably been sold.