April 1 - The first five fully operational Denel Rooivalk combat support helicopters have been handed over to the South African Air Force.
The helicopter, designed and manufactured in South Africa, was received by the Chief of the SA Air Force, Lt Gen Carlo Gagiano.
The Chief Executive Officer of Denel, Talib Sadik, says the handover is the culmination of 25 years of research, development and high-technology manufacturing.
"This is a product that the South African public can be proud of – locally designed, locally manufactured and, now, ready for deployment by our local Air Force," says Sadik.
Lt Gen Gagiano says the Rooivalk will contribute significantly to the ability of the SAAF to fulfil its mandate in peacekeeping operations and to support the future deployment of South African soldiers.
The handover at the Denel Aviation campus in Kempton Park follows on a rigorous testing and evaluation programme by the SAAF. The first five helicopters will be operational at 16 Squadron, which is based in Bloemfontein. The remaining six will be completed and ready for deployment later this year.
Sadik says the upgraded Rooivalk Mark 1 has been tested at the Air Force's Test Flight and Development Centre (TFDC) since the beginning of November 2010. The evaluation included day and night flight operations, target identification and tracking, cannon firing, and evaluation of the secure communications modes and self-protection features.
"We received very positive reports from both the flying and ground support crews," says Kgobe. "Our upgrade programme for the Rooivalk was completed on track and on schedule."
The Rooivalk project started its design phase in 1984 and had its first flight in April 1990. It attracted world-wide attention for its unique design and capabilities and have been displayed at major international air shows in England, Dubai, Malaysia and Cape Town.
Denel Aviation was responsible for the final modifications to the helicopter to improve its safety and reliability and accuracy of its weapons systems and to complete all outstanding certification flight testing to enable application for a full military type certificate at the Cabinet-agreed deployment baseline.
During the retrofit programme all 11 SAAF production Rooivalk aircraft will be brought up to the Mark 1 standard. The programme includes the significant remanufacturing of certain gearbox mounting components that were found to be out of specification on a number of aircraft.
Kgobe says the recent evaluation included the testing on Rooivalk of the upgraded Mokopa anti-armour guided missile developed by Denel Dynamics. Live firing of the upgraded missile from Rooivalk was done in January this year at the Denel Overberg Test Range.
The missile scored direct hits on targets, both at the long- and short range limits of the missile, demonstrating successful weapons carriage and release from the aircraft, missile target lock-on and missile flight characteristics.
New external fuel tanks now increase the Rooivalk’s self-deployment range by 50%. Denel Saab Aerostructures assisted with detailed design of the tanks and is also responsible for manufacturing.
The original Rooivalk was designed as "an attack helicopter and tank killer" to meet the needs of SA Defence Force as it existed in the 1980s, explains Sadik. The changing role of the SANDF, which is now primarily engaged in mandated peacekeeping missions, meant that aircraft systems had to be adapted to meet the new requirements effectively.
"Rooivalk is now a modern, sophisticated, combat support helicopter, ready to be used by the SANDF in any of its potential deployed operations," he says.
Denel Aviation will be responsible for the deeper-level support capabilities to sustain flying operations. This includes all maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) work done on the Rooivalk fleet.
“As design authority and original equipment manufacturer we will ensure that the Rooivalk remains fully operational throughout its assigned life,” says Kgobe.