"I am very proud of this milestone we achieved, given that several members of the Denel team working on this first flight are historically-disadvantaged individuals trained at the Agusta facilities in Italy, as part of the skills development programme."
The flights conclude a week of preparatory testing of all the helicopter's sophisticated systems by a joint Denel-Agusta team.
“The aircraft systems were all operational at first start of the engines. After the very first start we hovered to assess the vibration levels that appeared extremely good," explained pilot Pietro Venanzi.
"A quick trimming of the track and balance of the rotors enabled us to take off in forward flight to complete the necessary system checks."
According to him, the exceptional work done on the first helicopter would lead to a successful service of the A109 LUH in the South African Air Force (SAAF).
This helicopter will be on display at the Africa Aerospace & Defence (AAD 2004) exhibition, taking place in Pretoria from September 21 to 25.
The local Agusta programme at Denel is a consequence of South Africa's Strategic Defence Acquisition Programme.
Denel signed a product supply agreement in 1999 with Agusta SpA, an AgustaWestland Company, for the A109 Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) programme.
The agreement provides for a phased multiyear programme for the manufacturing of the complete A109 LUH airframe and systems installation in South Africa.
Denel is involved in the integration of subsystems, manufacture, final assembly, customization engineering and flight-testing, as well as maintenance support of the SAAF helicopters.
Denel's production of the rest of the 25 Agusta A109 LUH helicopters is scheduled to run over the next three years. Once in service, the helicopters will initially be based at Bloemfontein to be used in various roles, including humanitarian operations and disaster relief.
The Agusta A109 Military (of which the LUH is a derivative specifically for the SAAF), is a multirole light twin-engined helicopter able to satisfy several basic military requirements, including transport of men and material, patrol and reconnaissance, liaison and command, casualty evacuation and escort/area suppression roles.