The South African Air Force has grounded its fleet of 24 BAE Systems Hawk Mk120 lead-in fighter trainers after one experienced an engine surge during a fly-by to celebrate Freedom Day last year. Air Force chief Lieutenant General Carlo Gagiano says the move was precautionary. He added the aircraft, assigned to 85 Combat Flying School at AFB Makhado landed safely.
The general said the aircraft manufacturer as well as the engine-maker, Rolls Royce, was investigating. Gagiano expressed the hope that the issue would shortly be resolved and the aircraft returned to flying status. A BAE Systems spokesman confirmed the grounding. “BAE Systems is working closely with the SAAF and engine manufacturer, Rolls Royce, to determine the cause of a technical malfunction that has resulted in the SAAF grounding its fleet of Hawk aircraft.
“The grounding of the fleet is a standard precautionary measure to enable further inspections, tests and any remedial actions to be carried out on the fleet. There is no evidence to suggest that the problem is the result of inadequate maintenance of the aircraft by the SAAF.”
Gagiano also praised the utility of the little fighters, acquired for R7.2 billion and delvered between 2006 and 2008, saying “we are doing good training on them now.” He added again that the platform was “too capable to use just as a training aircraft”. He has previously avered similar sentiments. The former fighter pilot says his vision is pairing four Hawk with two of the fourth-generation Saab Gripen advanced light fighter aircraft in the air defence role, with the latter acting as command-and-control platforms and downlinking radar and engagement data via the Link ZA system. For this reason, the Hawk was to be fitted with the Denel Dynamics A-Darter fifth-generation short-range infra-red guided air-to-air missile and associated helmet-mounted sights.
“This is a formidable aircraft which can play a decisive role with vast airpower capabilities and has proved that it can be used beyond just training purposes. Like with the Rooivalk, this aircraft is a force multiplier which can give any defence force the upper hand in a battle scenario,” Gagiano said.
Part of the 1999 Strategic Defence Package, the first two aircraft were delivered to the SAAF on May 24, 2006 and the last by August 2008. With the exception of Hawk SA 250, the flight test and development aircraft, which was built in the United Kingdom, all of its other Hawks were assembled at Denel’s aircraft factory at Johannesburg International Airport in Kempton Park east of Johannesburg.
Under a reciprocal industrial participation agreement, Denel for a while became the exclusive manufacturer of tailplanes, airbrakes and flaps for the Hawk programme, with these components already being incorporated onto aircraft operated by or being built for South Africa, India, Bahrain and the UK’s Royal Air Force.
The Hawk Mk120 was selected over the Czech Aero Vodochody L39/59/139, the German/US Dasa/Boeing Ranger 2000, the Italian Aermacchi MB339 and the Russian MAPO MiG-AT and Russo-Italian Aermacchi/Yakovlev YAK130. The basic design dates to 1968 when the then-Hawker-Siddeley aircraft company was asked to propose a successor to the Folland Gnat. The design, innovative for its time, was named the Hawk in 1973 and flew in 1974. It entered RAF service in 1976. The Hawk Mk120 LIFT and other “second generation” Hawks (Mks 127 and 128) only have 10% commonality with the original and feature new wings, forward and centre fuselage, fin and tailplane. The new variants are also said to have four times the fatigue life of the original.
The known value of work placed with BAE Systems, ATE, Denel Aviation, Rolls Royce and other companies to maintain and support the aircraft since 2007 and to date stands at R305 399 691.21.