Oryx comms upgrade underway


The upgrade of the on-board communication and navigation systems of the Denel M1 Oryx medium helicopter is underway at Denel Aviation’s Kempton Park facility as part of the South African Air Force’s Project Drummer.

“Drummer” is a comprehensive mid-life upgrade programme for the about 40 Oryx helicopters currently on inventory. Its value has not yet been publicly disclosed.

The Oryx first flew on September 18, 1987 and deliveries commenced in May 1989. Denel Aviation assembled 51 aircraft of which 39 are believed to remain in service.

The Oryx replaced the Aerospatiale SA330 Puma. Keith Campbell wrote in the Engineering News in June 2007 that the Oryx is a hybrid of the Puma and the later AS332 Super Puma.

“The Oryx has a fuselage that is longer than that of the Puma but shorter than that of the Super Puma, and was fitted with the powerplant, dynamics systems, and tail boom of the Super Puma (later, military versions of the Super Puma were redesignated Cougar),” he wrote.

“The result was and is a helicopter with a greater payload and range capability than the Puma and a greater power-to-weight ratio than the Super Puma/Cougar. In consequence, the Oryx is an ideal transport helicopter for the hot temperatures and high altitudes frequently found in Southern Africa,” and is likely to remain in service for many more years.

Although done in conjunction with France, Denel Aviation is regarded as the original equipment manufacturer of the Oryx.

Denel Aviation CE Ismail Dockrat says his company has been tasked with upgrading the Oryx helicopter`s on-board communication and navigation systems.

He adds that the systems` upgrade, which will include the modification and installation of the new on-board equipment, as well as final flight testing, “will ensure that these valuable helicopters are able to meet with the customer`s requirements and significantly extend their service life.”

The Drummer communications and navigation upgrade got underway last year and has progressed to point where Denel Aviation, Armscor and the SAAF have agreed to the communication and navigation systems Design Baseline. 

Dockrat says Denel Aviation is currently gearing itself to start the proto-type aircraft installation phase. “Our company`s systems engineering focus has enabled Denel Aviation to provide the highly specialised support services required,” he says. “We are pleased with the progress made on the project to date.”

The upgrade includes the installation of new equipment and the development of an interface between the older and newer technologies in the helicopter, as well as developing software for the new navigation computers.

“The focus of the programme has been predominantly systems engineering,” adds Dockrat. “While the ergonomics of the new systems are critical, developing the appropriate software to drive the new technology, has been the most challenging and time-consuming aspect of the project.”

All upgrades will be tested on Denel Aviation`s helicopter avionics engineering simulator, to ensure proper functionality, before being fitted to the actual aircraft.

Denel Aviation`s helicopter Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) division will then be responsible for subsequent aircraft modification, as well as the final installation of the upgraded system.

Initial flight tests, which are also to be conducted by Denel Aviation, are scheduled for the last quarter of 2009. 

Dockrat says the programme forms “a critical part” of Denel Aviation`s recent MRO partnership with the SAAF, which sees the company taking responsibility for maintenance, repair and overhaul functions, thereby enabling the air force to focus on its core role of protecting the South African skies.

“Keeping our air force flying is something Denel Aviation is proud to be involved with,” affirms Dockrat.

“Being able to conduct aviation upgrades such as this, within our borders, also translates into a cost-effective support service for South Africa`s aviation industry as a whole.”