Paramount ready to deliver Ahrlacs to launch customers next year

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Paramount has at least two launch customers lined up for its Ahrlac aircraft, which will enter production next year.

Two years’ worth of Ahrlac (Advanced High-performance Reconnaissance Light Aircraft) production has been spoken for, according to a Paramount official. Production will take place at a new 15 000 square metre AHRLAC Holdings facility at Wonderboom airport outside Pretoria, which will be able to produce two aircraft a month. 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, but ground was only broken on the new facility earlier this year.

If the requirement is there, additional facilities can be built at Wonderboom to produce up to four aircraft a month. The main factory will employ some 200 people in building the multirole aircraft, which in its military guise is known as the Mwari.

The aircraft was displayed during the recent Africa Aerospace and Defence exhibition at Air Force Base Waterkloof where it was exhibited with an Airbus Defence and Space Optronics Argos II electro-optical turret slaved to a helmet-mounted display and a Thales Avni infrared linescanner. The aircraft was also fitted with dummy Mokopa anti-tank missiles and guided bombs as well as a new Hartzell propeller.

The prototype (ZU-XDM) has accumulated 250 hours of flight testing since its maiden flight on 26 July 2014, including four deployments to South Africa’s borders and the Race for Rhinos charity event in Botswana in June this year. The latter deployment tested the aircraft’s ability to operate from semi-prepared airstrips with minimal logistic support – it does not require external power to be started, for example.

A second Ahrlac (ADM) is due to take flight by the end of the year and will test things like retractable landing gear, a full mission system in both cockpits, larger cockpit screens, a lighter airframe (rated at 8 g) and conformal fuel tanks for a 2 000 nautical mile ferry range. It will also likely be used to test weapons as the current prototype is only rated to 4 g. The third aircraft (PDM) will be the production demonstration model.

Paramount has entered into an agreement with Boeing to develop and market the Mwari. This agreement will see Boeing install a military mission system.

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 (1 300 nautical miles on internal fuel), 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.