South Africa’s first newly-developed, indigenous aircraft in a generation made its debut at country’s largest airshow, flying into the Waterkloof Air Fore Base location for the African Aerospace and Defense (AAD) event.

The appearance of the advanced high-performance reconnaissance light aircraft (AHRLAC) came only a month after the first public flight on 14 August.

It follows previous debuts at AAD in the early 1990s of the Denel Rooivalk attack helicopter and the Atlas Aerospace Ovid, an all-composite two-seat trainer.

As the Rooivalk programme delivered only 12 helicopters before closing production and the Ovid was cancelled without a customer, AHRLAC programme officials were quick to highlight how South African industry has evolved since the apartheid era.

“I think we’ve learned our lessons this time,” says Paul Potgeiter, AHRLAC programme manager.

Potgeiter’s father, also named Paul, is currently managing director of Aerosud, but was the original programme manager of Rooivalk.

“South Africa was still our only client [in the early 1990s],” says Potgeiter, the son. “We’re just going into this new open world said, no, we’ve got the captive client. We don’t need to worry about the rest of the world. That was the core mistake we made.”

The AHRLAC was designed specifically to avoid the same problem, he says. Examples of the philosophy include the selection of the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 engine, which can be serviced in nearly any country, he says.

The AHRLAC is also stuffed with hard points for carrying a wide range of sensors and weapons.

Asked if the $10-12 million per aircraft price of the Embraer Super Tucano offered a fair benchmark, Potgeiter agreed.

“You can go much cheaper or much more expensive depending on what you fit,” Potgeiter says. “If you fit the jammer that system itself is almost the value of the aircraft.”