The South African designed and developed AHRLAC (Advanced High-performance Reconnaissance Light Attack) prototype performed its first public flight earlier today in front of a group of journalists gathered at Wonderboom Airport, north of Pretoria. Developed by Paramount Group and Aerosud, the AHRLAC is the first all-new military aircraft developed in South Africa since the Rooivalk and highlights an impressive level of local expertise in design, engineering and flight qualification.

The 35 minute flight, at the hands of the experienced test pilot Johannes ‘Blokkies’ Joubert, showcase what the air crew have been calling the aircraft’s excellent flight characteristics and provided an opportunity to view first-hand (and listen in on, via speakers relaying the radio communications) the work needed for a test flight of a brand-new aircraft type. According to programme lead Paul Potgieter Junior, flight testing has gone well with no systems failures or problems so far.

the AHRLAC team has designed the aircraft to be easily reconfigurable, in just a few hours in field conditions

Paramount’s intention is for this prototype, the XDM (experimental demonstrator), to fly between 100 – 200 hours over the next six months to evaluate the AHRLAC’s full flight envelope and handling characteristics and validate the design. Thereafter it will be supplemented by the second prototype, the ADM (advanced demonstrator) which will fly early next year and be used to test the systems, sensors and weapons intended for the production aircraft. These will include electronic warfare sensors, radars, optronics, anti-tank missiles, rockets and guns. The Denel Dynamics Mokopa has been confirmed as one of the weapons that will be offered.

From the start the AHRLAC team has designed the aircraft to be easily reconfigurable, in just a few hours in field conditions, between various mission types and systems and weapons fitments. This is largely enabled by the large utility pod under its belly which can carry interchangeable payloads such as 360º radars, cannons, additional fuel tanks, cargo and additional optronics sensors. It’s this capability that Paramount says lets the AHRLAC carry out missions that previously required four separately configured aircraft to perform roles like patrol and reconnaissance, training and cargo carriage and light attack. It also makes the aircraft useful for a number of civilian missions like border patrol.

Dr Paul Potgieter, CEO AHRLAC Holdings, emphasised the advantages of the aircraft’s pusher propellor design, with the engine at the rear of the aircraft. He said that doing so allowed for the aircraft to have a stepped jet-like cockpit with excellent visibility for both crew members and that it provided an unobstructed field of view for any sensors installed on the aircraft. He also said that the project was using some of the most advanced and innovative techniques in aircraft design and manufacture, starting from the use of the latest CATIA 5 computer-aided design software to detail and design every single item of the aircraft down to its rivets and the use of advanced metallurgy and manufacturing tools. This allows the aircraft to be built quickly and accurately without an airframe jig, saving time and cost. Once production is fully underway the company expects to build up to five aircraft a month.

A number of air forces have expressed interest in the aircraft and are in talks with Paramount, though no sales have been announced as yet. The AHRLAC is expected to make an appearance on static display at next month’s Africa Aerospace and Defence Expo.

We’ll have more on the AHRLAC in our next podcast and in an upcoming special feature. Below are some images from the event.