Paramount has broken ground on the factory for its Advanced High-Performance Reconnaissance Light Aircraft (AHRLAC) at Wonderboom airport outside Pretoria and is moving ahead with the construction of the factory.
Paramount Group founder and executive chairman, Ivor Ichikowitz, in a recent interview with CNN Marketplace Africa, said “we’ve just broken ground on what will be the most modern and most advanced aircraft manufacturing facility right here in South Africa, and this is the facility that will produce the Ahrlac aircraft.”
The 15 000 square metre factory will be able to produce 24 aircraft a year. Aircraft production will only take place in around a year’s time. Paramount in August 2015 took delivery of some of the new machines it will use to manufacture the AHRLAC, such as a fluid cell press.
In March Ichikowitz told Defense News that the aircraft will be going into production over the next 15 months, and that the company was close to finalizing a contract with a launch customer. Ichikowitz said there is high interest from Middle East-based potential clients as well as American and African clients for the aircraft.
“We’re in South Africa because our ability to design, develop and produce happens to be in South Africa. I believe that South Africa will always be a very cost effective place to do high tech industrial development. And as we move around the world, we’re finding that we have a very cost effective base of intellect here in South Africa, not necessarily the most cost effective labour based,” Ichikowitz told CNN.
“There’s no question that Africa can be in the aerospace industry. We’re proving it. We’re living it. The capability is around us every day. And as we start pushing aircraft out of the production facility, we’ll find other aircraft manufacturers wanting to do the same.”
The military version of the Advanced High-performance Reconnaissance Light Aircraft (AHRLAC) is now known as the Mwari, while the unarmed version remains the AHRLAC. The Mwari name was previously used by a Paramount unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), now called Mwewe. Paramount recently reached an agreement with Boeing to jointly weaponise and integrate Boeing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) mission systems onto the Mwari.
Paramount will have an AHRLAC at the Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) exhibition in September as the programme moves forward.
The first prototype Ahrlac, XDM, in late June last year was fitted with a Paramount Advanced Technologies (PAT) 420 sensor ball, Thales Avni thermal reconnaissance system, Sustel MiniRaven radar warning receiver and Reutech ACR510 radio. The PAT 420 sensor ball features a day camera, infrared camera, auto tracker and laser rangefinder. It was designed for light aircraft and has a range of 8 km and can see people at 5 km.
The Avni wide area surveillance system downloads the imagery it records, and this can be analysed by time or location, as the imagery is overlaid on a map of the aircraft’s flight path. Rudi Ludick of Reutech Communications said the Ahrlac is the ACR510’s first application. This 30-400 MHz radio offers both secure voice and data communications.
ADM, the second Ahrlac, has various improvements over the first such as an oxygen system, retractable landing gear and ejection seats (Martin Baker MB16/17). The third aircraft (PDM) will be the production demonstration model.
The Ahrlac first flew on 26 July 2014 and had accumulated 50 hours by December that year. Key features of the aircraft include its pusher propeller design powered by a Pratt and Whitney engine and high wing for crew visibility (which also makes it suitable for training purposes), high cruise and dash speeds (maximum cruise speed is 270 knots and stall speed is 69 knots), payload capacity of 800 kg with full fuel and two crew, long operating range (1 110 nautical miles on internal fuel although range with external fuel goes up to 2 256 nautical miles and 9.4 hours endurance), short take-off and landing (STOL) capability, including from semi-prepared landing strips, and interchangeable belly pod for a variety of sensors and weapons.
The Ahrlac was developed to fulfil a wide range of missions from border patrol, internal security and defence to disaster management and environmental protection. As such it is the first new South African manned military aircraft in the last 25 years.