The first five fully operational Rooivalk helicopters were handed over to the South African Air Force (SAAF) by Denel Aviation on Friday morning. These fully operational aircraft are designated as the Rooivalk Mk 1. Previously, although the Rooivalks could fly, they were not truly operational and could not be deployed, for example, to support United Nations peacekeeping operations.
“This is a historic moment for Denel and indeed the entire South African defence and advanced manufacturing industries,” affirmed Denel group CE Talib Sadik. “The Rooivalk is unique and a singular triumph for South African engineering and advanced manufacturing.”
“Denel is exceptionally proud to have been involved in the development of this helicopter,” he asserted. “The Rooivalk programme has been a catalyst for the development of South Africa’s aerospace and advanced manufacturing industries. The spin-offs from the Rooivalk programme will continue far into the future.”
He highlighted that the Rooivalk (Kestrel in English) had been an incubator for research and innovation, including pioneering use of composites, the development of avionics, weapons control systems and electro-optical sights.
Development of the Rooivalk started with the start of the design phase in 1984 and the first prototype, known as the XDM, made its first flight on February 11, 1990. “The Rooivalk has been developed over the past quarter century,” said Denel Aviation CEO Mike Kgobe. “Denel Aviation is the design authority for the Rooivalk. We are exceptionally proud of our achievement.”
“This is a great moment for the South African Air Force,” stated SAAF Chief Lieutenant-General Carlo Gagiano. He pointed out that, over the years, a number of modifications and upgrades had been made to the Rooivalk, partly to integrate new technologies and partly to adapt the aircraft to the changing requirements of the SAAF.
“Our constructive relationship with Denel will not end at this point,” he assured. Denel Aviation, as the design authority, will remain responsible for the deeper maintenance of the aircraft and for repair and overhaul services. The company, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the State-owned Denel defence industrial group, will upgrade another six Rooivalks to Mk 1 standard.
The Rooivalks, which are now formally designated as combat support helicopters by the SAAF, will be operated by 16 Squadron at Air Force Base Bloemspruit, near Bloemfontein in the Free State province. Currently, the Rooivalk Mk 1s are armed with a 20 mm cannon and unguided rockets. The helicopter can fire the Denel Dynamics Mokopa missile, but the SAAF has not yet acquired this weapon.