The Advanced High-Performance Reconnaissance Light Aircraft (Ahrlac) has reached the ground-testing phase at the Wonderboom Airport, in Pretoria, marking a significant milestone for South Africa-based defence solutions business Paramount Group.
Ahrlac is a compact twin-boom, single-engine surveillance and light strike aircraft for a tandem-seated crew of two people.
The assembly of Ahrlac began in January, with the first engine-start of the prototype taking place in March and early taxi trials in May, revealed Ahrlac programme leader Paul Potgieter on Thursday.
South African aerospace company Aerosud was subcontracted by Ahrlac Holdings to develop the aircraft, which Potgieter noted was designed to meet the diverse needs of homeland security, such as airborne and electronic surveillance and advanced combat training.
He added that the market trends indicated a global need for a cost-effective, flexible, multirole, armed reconnaissance aircraft.
The Ahrlac integrates design concepts from attack helicopters, surveillance platforms and reconnaissance aircrafts.
The aircraft was designed for military and civilian applications. It can carry a comprehensive weapons suite for specific mission applications as well as physically and electronically integrate equipment in a plug-and-play manner.
Potgieter said the location of the Ahrlac’s engine was significant as it was found on the rear end of the aircraft, which provides an unobstructed, forward view. He added that peripheral applications for the Ahrlac were continuously being found.
At least 98% of the 6 000 parts of the aircraft were locally designed and produced using computer-aided three-dimensional interactive application software.
The Ahrlac was digitally manufactured using design-for-manufacture, paperless digital manufacturing concepts, advanced metrology and high-speed computer numerically controlled machinery.
“The fact that every single part of the aircraft was predesigned on a computer allowed it to have a jigless construction. This allows every part to fit together and saves [on] costs and time. Parts being predrilled and machine made allowed for jigless manufacture, which in turn allowed for accuracy, a reduced need for hand skills and, therefore, less time to build,” said Potgieter.
Manufacturing machines for the Ahrlac were already on site at the Aerosud Innovation and Training Centre, in Centurion, where the production of the aircraft would take place.
Paramount Group had also invested in one of only two computer measuring machine facilities in the world for its manufacturing process.
A dedicated construction area for various aspects of production has been set up. These production aspects included composite stations, machining from billets and sheet metal, manufacturing of most of the visible wing and tail parts, protoshop and pipe bending.
Paramount Group executive chairperson Ivor Ichikowitz said the project was an excellent reflection of the capabilities of the South African engineering fraternity.
“The incredible progress made by local engineers has put them at the forefront of global aerospace innovation and their joint expertise has turned them into pathfinders, who are proudly setting new milestones through continuous innovation.
“The flight test programme represents the culmination of all our efforts, which makes it an extremely exciting phase to be part of. We have reached a summit of a project that is steeped in innovation and are extremely happy with the performance of the aircraft,” he said.