AHRLAC in Upington on long range testing

The Northern Cape aviation fraternity, particularly those based at Upington, have had their first close-up look at the home-grown AHRLAC multi-mission aircraft. The high-wing, push propeller aircraft is one of two currently building hours as systems and flight characteristics are evaluated ahead of production. AHRLAC is an acronym for advanced high-performance reconnaissance light aircraft. The military version of the Paramount Group aircraft is known as the Mwari. Reports from Northern Cape to an aviation website indicated AHRLAC, accompanied by a support Cessna Caravan, was at Upington airport last week. Local flying club members were invited to “come and have a look” and the general impression was “quite impressive, close up”. The aircraft also did a number of circuits over the airport which drew comments of “it’s noisy” and “it has the same high-pitched drone as a microlight”.

It was subsequently brought to light that the noise was related to the propeller being rear-mounted and exhaust gas hitting it. An exhaust modification is planned to reduce noise levels. AHRLAC is now part of the Paramount Group after initially conceived by Paul Potgieter and his team at Aerosud. Ivor Ichikowitz’ Paramount Group bought into the project and the AHRLAC prototype made its public debut at Africa Aerospace and Defence in 2014. Since then hundreds of hours have been logged by test pilot “Blokkies” Joubert, flying from Wonderboom Airport, north-east of Pretoria, where Paramount has built a production facility for AHRLAC. AHRLAC was doing long range testing in Northern Cape last week and apparently flew over Armscor’s Alkantpan test range near Copperton. The prototype (ZU-XDM) has accumulated well over 250 hours of flight testing since its maiden flight on 26 July 2014, including four deployments to South Africa’s borders and the Race for Rhinos charity event in Botswana in June this year. The latter deployment tested the aircraft’s ability to operate from semi-prepared airstrips with minimal logistic support – it does not require external power to be started, for example. A second Ahrlac (ADM) will test things like retractable landing gear, a full mission system in both cockpits, larger cockpit screens, a lighter airframe (rated at 8 g) and conformal fuel tanks for a 2 000 nautical mile ferry range. It will also likely be used to test weapons. The third aircraft (PDM) will be the production demonstration model. Paramount has entered into an agreement with Boeing to develop and market the Mwari. This agreement will see Boeing install a military mission system. In October last year a Paramount official indicated the company has “at least two launch customers” for AHRLAC, set to enter production this year. Production will take place at a new 15 000 square metre AHRLAC Holdings facility at Wonderboom airport, which will be able to produce two aircraft a month. The main factory will employ some 200 people in building the multirole aircraft. Key features of the aircraft include its pusher propeller design powered by a Pratt and Whitney engine and high wing for crew visibility (which also makes it suitable for training purposes), high cruise and dash speeds (maximum cruise speed is 270 knots and stall speed is 69 knots), payload capacity of 800 kg with full fuel and two crew, long operating range (1 300 nautical miles on internal fuel), short take-off and landing (STOL) capability, including from semi-prepared landing strips, and interchangeable belly pod for a variety of sensors and weapons.

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