New South African aircraft design revealed

27th September 2011 By: Keith Campbell - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

South African aeronautical company Aerosud on Tuesday formally unveiled its first complete, crewed, aircraft design, the Advanced High Performance Reconaissance Light Aircraft (Ahrlac). Apart from some light sports aircraft, this is also the first all-South African manned aircraft design since the Denel Rooivalk attack helicopter, which was conceived 26 years ago.

“We have more than strong interest in the aircraft,” reported Aerosud MD Dr Paul Potgieter. “We are talking about significant interest at this point in time.”

The company expects to fly the prototype Ahrlac next year. Wind tunnel testing of the design has been completed and there is a full scale development model. “We’ve built a one-quarter scale model of the aircraft,” he highlighted. “That’s very significant. We’ve done some 80 flights with that. We downloaded lots of data.”

The aircraft has been designed electronically, by a small team in Aerosud’s own Innovation Centre. It will be made mostly of metals, but with composite fairings. However, its components will be manufactured using the latest production technologies.

The aim is to keep costs down. “We have set ourselves the objective of being cost competitive. We’re putting massive effort into this aircraft, looking at [the most economical methods of ] manufacturing it,” he affirmed.

In the development of the Ahrlac, Aerosud has had the support of South African land defence systems company Paramount, which holds 19% of the aeronautical enterprise. The companies have not divulged the cost of the Ahrlac project.

“This is a big project. We were under no illusions [when we launched it] – it was going to need a lot of cash,” stated Paramount executive chairman Ivor Ichikowitz. “The project is fully funded to the first flight and beyond. For a production capacity of two-three aircraft a month, we have no [financial] issues. We hope to start production next year. We hope to be in the sub-$10-million [price category].”

The new aircraft is a tandem two-seat machine intended for a wide range of military, paramilitary, policing and civilian tasks and missions. It is designed to be easily re-roled from one mission to another, and the bottom section of the fuselage takes the form of a conformal (aerodynamically integrated into the airframe) pod. Switch the pod, and you switch the role. Pods can be configured to carry sensors, electronics, weapons and even supplies which could be dropped by parachute.

The aircraft will also have six underwing hardpoints, to carry weapons. Two of these hardpoints will also be fitted to carry external fuel tanks. It will also be able to carry a 20 mm cannon.

The Ahrlac will also be able, if required, to be fitted with two Martin Baker Mark 16 ejection seats for its crew. The design has a highwing and a pusher (rear mounted) turboprop engine, to provide its crew with maximum visibility, and it will have a highly integrated avionics system.

Aerosud expects the aircraft to have a cruising speed of 300 knots (about 540 km/h), a payload of more than 800 kg, and a range (on internal fuel) of 1 150 nautical miles (some 2 070 km). It is designed to be highly manoeuvreable and to be able to operate from short and unprepared airstrips, with a takeoff distance of 550 m with full payload.

The Ahrlac is intended for missions like border security, coastal patrol (including anti-piracy and counternarcotics), internal security, environmental protection, disaster management, as well as defence missions such as reconnaissance, surveillance and light attack.

The Ahrlac project has not received any government funding.