South Africa's Thunder City has launched a Eurocopter AS330 Puma modernisation programme designed to extend the life of the medium-lift helicopter - for which production was halted around 30 years ago - by up to a decade.
The Cape Town-based company already owns the world's largest civil collection of ex-military jets, having restored the last four flying English Electric Lightnings and three Blackburn Buccaneers, plus seven Hawker Hunters and a BAC Strikemaster.
Thunder City chief executive Emilio Titus says the conversion programme involves upgrading the helicopter's ageing avionics with a "glass cockpit" supplied by Cobham Avionics, including a synthetic visualisation system. Titus declines to comment on the cost of the programme or on the cost of a conversion.
Thunder City is targeting Puma operators worldwide. "Of the 700 or so Pumas built in the 1960s and 1970s, about 100 in service are ready to have their lifespan extended," he says. "We have a well-established market in the UK, Europe and the USA and I plan to expand our markets in the Middle East, Asia, Canada and Brazil. Interest for Puma conversions has already been received from the Middle East and Asia," he says.
The Puma upgrade has been certificated by the South African Civil Aviation Authority and Titus says the company is in discussions with Eurocopter to encourage the manufacturer to continue supporting the upgraded machine.