Every two years, Africa’s biggest aerospace and defence expo rolls around. It is met with ambivalence by exhibitors, yet the public enjoys it and in general everyone leaves feeling it was a worthwhile and entertaining event. 2016 was no different.
In the early 2000s, when South Africa was in the throes of its strategic arms deal, there was potential business for a number of international defence and aerospace companies, and AAD bustled. The economy and potential business has slowed, and with it the excitement of the show has subsided somewhat, but that isn’t to say it has lost its appeal.
This year there was the usual strong presence from USAF, which once again brought the C-17, two C-130s, and the Reaper UAV, which has an impressive 20 metre wingspan. They also had a six-piece air force swing band, which entertained the passing crowds from a stage under the tail of the C-17. Even the rain on the Sunday didn’t deter them. They moved into the nearby hangar and continued with the jamboree.
Not surprisingly, the two dominant exhibitors this year, like 2014, were Paramount and Denel. Paramount had a ‘Two-face’ version of its multi-role ARHLAC – the armed version is now called the Mwari, while the civilian aircraft will retain the AHRLAC name. It’s promising to see that both Airbus and Boeing have come on board to equip the AHRLAC with various system, sensors and weapons, and although the names have not been mentioned, Paramount claims to have secured a launch customers for the aircraft. In addition to the ARHLAC, Paramount asserted its presence with its domineering Parabot, which dominated the skyline outside Hangar 4 at the centre of the display grounds. Inside, Paramount’s exhibit took up half the hangar, with a model ARHLAC, a cinema-sized movie screen, a number of other mock-up displays and networking tables.
The other half of the hangar was taken up by Denel, with the company’s full spectrum of services, vehicles and machines on display – land, sea and air. Exciting news for Denel this year was the signing of an MoU with Airbus to arm and update the next generation Rooivalk attack helicopter, which is proving itself with the UN MONUSCO task force in Africa.
In addition to the Rooivalk, Denel had a full scale fuselage mock-up of its Small African Regional Aircraft (SARA). The SARA was launched two years ago, at AAD 2014. Denel’s aim is to provide an affordable ‘community’ airliner tailored to African transport requirements. It will be a twin-engined, 24-seat pressurised airliner that can operate point-to-point services between small, semi-prepared regional runways. Further development of the aircraft will include cargo and a combination of cargo/passenger transport.
The project is also intended to be a catalyst for the development of the local aerospace industry by creating a new pool of engineers and technicians. According to Denel, an independent study done by Lufthansa concluded that the programme could create more than 2,000 technical jobs sustained over 15 years, develop skills of 300 engineers, permit the development of an aerospace special economic zone, and generate worthwhile export revenue, with a breakeven on 360 aircraft within the first 10 years of production.
Another South African initiative that attracted attention was the C-Wolf Boeremeisie, the civilian version of the Wolf AUV (Aerial Utility Vehicle). The unusual looking amphibian bush plane with a pusher configuration was conceived by Wolfgang Vormbaum over 30 years ago, who wanted a rugged bush plane/amphibian that could carry his family. His company Vliegmasjien, based at Baragwanath Airfield, south of Johannesburg, unveiled it to the public at AAD 2012. The company initially hoped to do engine runs in September last year, but development and funding delays slowed the project. Although the Boeremeisie was not flown into Waterkloof for AAD this year, Andre Labuschagne, Marketing Consultant for Vliegmasjien, said that it was capable of doing so and first flight is expected in January 2017.
Vliegmasjien intends building three variants of the aircraft, the civilian C-Wolf (Boeremeisie), a militarised aerial patrol M-Wolf (Induna), and an unmanned U-Wolf (Tokoloshe).
The composite Boeremeise has a cavernous cabin, with seating for six in a 2+2+2 configuration, and ample luggage space in the pontoons, under the seats and in the tail boom under the engine. It has an empty weight of 900 kg and a useful load of 800 kg. Powered by the South African designed and built ADEPT Airmotive 320 hp turbo engine, the Beoremeisie will run on mogas and cruise at 120 kt. The engine will turn a slow rotation constant speed five-bladed MT propeller, specifically designed for Vliegmasjien.
The first prototype on display at AAD was hand-built with the aid of temporary tooling, but a second aircraft will use production standard moulds and jigs, with the full length fuselage being moulded in two halves for ease of construction.
Russian Helicopters, developers of the Mi helicopters popular in Africa has been a loyal exhibitor at AAD, but 2016 promised to bring greater Russian presence in the form of Sukhoi and Tupolev with their Tu-160 swept wing bomber. Unfortunately, Tupolev pulled out, but Sukhoi flew its Superjet 100 into Waterkloof on 13 September, the Tuesdaybefore the show, to make its African debut as part of its demonstration tour of the continent. JSC Suhkoi Civil Aircraft (SCAC) sees Africa as a key market for the 100-seat regional passenger jet. However, the jet on display in the static park was the Suhkoi Business Jet configuration of the aircraft, with a bespoke 19-seat corporate interior.
SCAC has secured a number of recent orders for the Superjet 100, including Irish regional carrier CityJet, which took delivery of the first of a 31-aircraft order in May this year, and is in talks with a number of African carriers.
Moving to aircraft more dedicated to general aviation, Cessna agents in Southern Africa, Absolute Aviation had their latest bizjet, the Citation Latitude, on display. The Latitude is the smallest of Cessna’s new family of mid- to super-midsize biz-jets – the Latitude, Longitude, and Hemisphere. It uses the Sovereign+’s wing, engines and cruciform empennage, and its new fuselage is the foundation of the larger Citation Longitude.
With seating for nine passengers, the Latitude competes with Embraer’s Legacy 450. It has good short-field performance – ideal for Africa, but it isn’t a one-stop aircraft from Southern Africa to Europe.
Staying with jets, but going a lot smaller, Cirrus had a full size mock-up of the Cirrus Vision SF50 Jet. The long awaited certification is imminent, and already there are orders for over 600, 23 of which are for Africa. With that backlog, despite Cirrus planning to build 125 Vision jets a year, a new order today will put you on a five-year waiting list. The SF50 is intended to be a step up for pilots who have flown the Cirrus SR20, SR22 and other high-performance light aircraft.
Diamond was displaying its DA62 and DA42M special missions variant, equipped for information, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) operations. Diamond is taking both aircraft on a sales and demonstration tour of Africa, with the DA42M attracting attention in air forces and militaries throughout the continent, according to Diamond.
The diesel-powered Diamond aircraft have been met with suspicion due to past concerns with Thielert engines; however, the updated engines and performance figures make a compelling case for the DA62 – and DA42. The modern seven-seat (but comfortably five-seat) DA62, with its sleek composite construction and efficient diesel engines operates at two thirds of the cost of a similar-sized piston single, taking into account maintenance costs and provision for a TBO of 1,500 hours, but comes with the safety benefit of an extra engine. Of course the catch is the purchase price of about R15 million for a new aircraft, but that’s not significantly more than other new piston twins. It’s one of the few piston twins that still makes sense in today’s market, and is even worth considering for pilots currently operating high performance piston singles.
Prominent near the entrance was Wagtail with their autogyros. Wagtail started out with the peculiar-looking Kriek 1A in 2009. It is now moving onto its fourth version of the type. But more exciting are their Trojan, Trooper and LDG autogyros. Powered by Subaru’s light-weight, economical yet powerful EJ25 engines, delivering between 170 to 260 hp, these three locally built autogyros are leading commercial and defence use of gyros. They are specifically built for rugged use in Africa, with pneumatic suspension, external power points for jumper cables, large bush tyres, and hydraulic main rotor pre-rotators.
Wagtail has conducted over 8,000 accident and incident free hours on their gyroplanes for commercial use. Thus they have proven the reliability of the Subaru engines. This is notable as Rotax dominates the non-type certified aircraft market, yet their engines are expensive and produce just 80 to 110 hp, although a 135 hp Rotax engine is being developed. With the Subaru engines producing significantly more power, and with proven reliability, its curious that these engines are not more popular.
Say what you will about AAD, it is still the biggest airshow in South Africa. For some it is the only airshow they attend, waiting patiently for it to roll around every two years. Being more than just an airshow – a biennial aerospace and defence exhibition – air forces are more inclined to support the event. So the public is treated to the best and most advanced aircraft on the continent, and further abroad, and are able to see demonstrations from aircraft not usually seen on the airshow circuit.
Thus the SAAF flew a simulated dog fight between two Gripens and a Hawk, displaying the remarkable manoeuvrability of the Gripen. And the C130 Hercules demonstrated its impressive hot and high sort field performance, and dropped an endless string of paratroopers over the airfield, who covered the skies with their round canopies.
Fighter jets regularly roared into the air. In addition to the Gripens and Hawks, there was an Impala, a Cheetah, and the Zambian Air Force’s Hongdu L-15 Falcon advanced jet trainer. The Zambian Air Force has only recently taken delivery of the trainer, and is the first export customer of the Chinese jet, having ordered six in 2014.
Flying as a four-ship, Team 80 of the Silver Falcons were back with their precision formation aerobatics in the SAAF PC-7 MkII trainers, and flew beautifully alongside Scully Levin in Mango’s 737. Then there were formation fly-bys of Harvards and an Albatross, the usual professional formation displays by the Torre and Goodyear Pitts Specials and the Harvard Lions. Aerobatic displays were flown by Jason Beamish, Neville Ferreira, Nigel Hopkins and others. And Helicopter fans were treated to SAAF Oryx and Rooivalks, A109s, Gazelles, Bell 222s and 407s and more.
With Paramount having such a strong presence at the show, it was little surprise that they put on a larger than usual anti-rhino poaching demonstration, and the SANDF mini-war, with its explosions, tanks, jets and helicopters was a highlight for many.
Unfortunately, miserable weather on the Sunday washed out the flying displays, but those who did brave the outdoors were able to have a look at all the static exhibits, but without the queues of the Saturday show.
An estimated 60,000 visitors attended AAD over the weekend, and no matter where you are in the world this is going to cause some traffic. The general view, however, was that traffic and access onto the air force base was improved from 2014. There was ample parking, efficient access through the gates, plenty of food stalls and toilets with reasonably short queues, and remarkably very little litter despite the number of people.
Yes, AAD isn’t what it was ten years ago, but with a highly limited budget in the SANDF, and little hope of things tuning around in the short-term, there isn’t the same level of incentive for exhibitors. Nevertheless, those who attended were still treated to a well-run airshow, with jet-fuelled entertainment, and an abundance of exhibits and displays by some of the world’s largest producers of military and aerospace equipment.