Rooivalk upgrades almost complete; final deliveries pending


Denel Aviation will shortly delivery the last five Rooivalk attack helicopters to the South African Air Force (SAAF), allowing the upgraded aircraft to enter operational service. The first six upgraded machines were handed over to the Air Force in April last year.

The company said that the last five Rooivalks are being worked on by its Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) division and are currently being upgraded to Type Certificated standard.

Denel Aviation said it plans to deliver the first three back to the SAAF’s 16 Squadron before the end of the current financial year, which finishes at the end of this month. The other two aircraft should be completed and delivered before the end of June.

On January 27 this year at the Air Force Day Parade, head of the SAAF Lieutenant General Carlo Gagiano said that 16 Squadron, was “now getting up to steam” with the upgraded Rooivalks.

He described the Rooivalk as “a system we cannot be without”. He said that if the Air Force is involved in peacekeeping support operations, the Rooivalk “is the first aircraft I would send.”

The first six Rooivalk Mk 1F helicopters were ceremonially handed over the Air Force on April 1 last year after 130 modifications to each aircraft. A major feature of the work is upgrading the sighting system on the Rooivalk for improved reliability.

Then Denel group CEO Talib Sadik said last year that, “The Rooivalk is unique and a singular triumph for South African engineering and advanced manufacturing…the Rooivalk programme has been a catalyst for the development of South Africa’s aerospace and advanced manufacturing industries. The spin-offs from the Rooivalk programme will continue far into the future.” (Sadik has been succeeded by Riaz Saloojee.)

The upgrade programme includes the significant remanufacturing of certain gearbox mounting components that were found to be out of specification on a number of aircraft and had caused problems in the past.

The troublesome F2 20mm cannon has also reportedly been cured of overheating and reliability problems. Although the Rooivalk is cleared to carry the Denel Dyamics Mokopa precision-guided missile, the SAAF has yet to buy any of the missiles and for the moment the attack helicopter is armed with a chin-mounted 20 mm turreted cannon and under-wing pods firing Forge Zeebrugge 70 mm unguided rockets.

However, Rheinmetall Denel, which manufactures components for the Mokopa, says there are some development issues still being worked out on the missile but that it is very confident of an order at some stage in the future.

Although the Rooivalks could fly before the upgrades, they were not truly operational and could not be deployed, for example, to support United Nations peacekeeping operations.