South African aviation and defence company Advanced Technologies and Engineering (ATE) has embarked on conceptual planning for the development of what is to be known as the New Attack Helicopter (NAH), external affairs director Lorris Duncker tells Engineering News.
This comes on the back of the successful upgrade of the Russian-made Mi-24 helicopter, now in production for the air force of a North African country and the demonstration of another upgraded Russian stalwart – the Mi-17 combat helicopter – to an unnamed potential customer.
The Mi-17 upgrade entailed the night vision goggle-compatible conversion of all cockpit and cabin lighting, external navigation and formation lighting and the inclusion of infrared landing lights. It also included the installation of glass cockpit avionics, a sighting system and a weapons system that incorporates twin 23-mm cannons in pylon slung pods, eight Ingwe missiles on stub-wing outboard stations, rocket pods and chaff and flare countermeasures.
The demonstration of the upgraded Mi-17 helicopter, expected to lead to the signing of a deal early next year, took place in the potential customer's country.
"The Mi-17 upgrade success is based upon the capability and experience that ATE has created, both in itself and in the South African defence industry, when it upgraded a large fleet of Russian Mi-24 helicopters aimed at significantly enhancing its operational performance," says Duncker.
He states that the design philosophy for the NAH "is to use proven and operational weapons systems and to design an airframe around that, rather than following some existing design phisolophies, which focus predominantly on the airframe, leaving the weapons system development to the last".
It is envisaged that the platform features of the NAH will include a tandem layout; an all-composite airframe with integral infrared suppressors; and an engine, a gearbox and a drivetrain similar to those on the South African-made Rooivalk attack helicopter.
It will also feature a weapons system comprising a turret-mounted 20-mm dual-feed cannon with a range of up to 2 000 m; guided and unguided rockets; canister-protected, and laser beam-riding guided Ingwe missiles on stub-wing outboard stations, boasting a range of 500 m to 5 000 m. The missiles will be capable of penetrating 950 mm rolled homogeneous armour.
The weapons system will also boast chaff and flare countermeasures coupled to the mission electronic warfare system, including missile approach warning, radar warning and laser warning.
The NAH's avionics will include a three-screen glass cockpit for each crew station, a digital map with Doppler/global positioning system hybrid navigation, a communications and electronic warfare suite, an identification-of-friend-or-foe system and a voice/data recorder.
The sighting system will comprise a nose-mounted system, boasting three field-of-view forward-looking infrared and three field-of-view TVs; provision for laser range finding; autotracking, missile guidance and laser designation capabilities; a helmet-mounted sighting system for cannon and sight cueing; and binocular vision displays on the visors of both crew members. Aiming and flight information will be displayed in the field of view.
"The focus of the NAH will be to transfer technology and to create the capability for a new helicopter industry in the country of the prospective customer," says Duncker.
Meanwhile, ATE has announced the successful flight qualification of composite main rotor blades for the Mi-24 helicopter and the completion of the preliminary design and characterisation of composite blades for the Mi-17 helicopter, the development of which has started.
"Composite blades have an infinite operating life and an infinite shelf life, thus enabling operators to procure a single set of composite blades for the lifespan of the helicopter, whereas, previously, six sets of metal blades would have to be procured," says Duncker.
"Composite rotor blades could replace metal blades without any change or modification to the helicopter, its procedures and performance or the standard documentation."
In another development, ATE is to unveil a Pall vortex engine air particle separator system for the Mi-24 helicopter at the Africa Aerospace and Defence 2008 exhibition, to be held in Cape Town on September 17 to 21. The new system will provide protection to the engine from fine sand and dust particles, thereby doubling its operating life.