SAAF to unveil upgraded Astra


The South African Air Force will tomorrow unveil its upgraded Pilatus PC7 MkII Astra basic flying trainer at a ceremony to be held at Air Force Base Langebaanweg as part of the ongoing rejuvenation of the South African National Defence Force. Thirty-five of the aircraft were upgraded at a cost of R400 million.

The SAAF says the upgrade features a state-of-the-art glass cockpit, a new avionics system and other training-related equipment. The upgrade was performed by black-empowered aviation company Aerosud under the supervision of the Swiss original equipment manufacturer (OEM) as part of a programme coated at R400 million in 2007. Work started at Air Force Base Langebaanweg in November last year.

The upgrade “will allow a smooth transition of advance training to other specialisation systems within the Air Force (Combat, Helicopter and Transport fleets). The aircraft has now an all weather capability that will allow more advance training capabilities,” the SAAF says in a statement.

The PC7 has been in service since 1996. The upgrade has prolonged its life span to 2025. “This was necessitated by a study performed during 2005 which indicated that the onboard avionic suite might face serious obsolescence from 2008 onwards. Furthermore, it was realised that, replacing the individual obsolete component is cost effective as it essentially forms the heart of the avionic system. The conclusion was to replace the entire avionic suite.”

The first of 60 aircraft acquired for the SAAF at a cost of $175 million to replace the North American Harvard as its basic trainer was delivered on October 17, 1994.

The contract was signed by then-Defence Minister Gene Louw on February 12, 1993 and provided for 55% offsets. It was SA’s first post-apartheid defence purchase.