The South African Air Force has accepted its first five of an eventual 11 upgraded Rooivalk Mk 1 combat support helicopters from Denel Aviation, having recently completed "a rigorous testing and evaluation programme" with the improved type.

Handed over to air force chief of staff Lt Gen Carlo Gagiano during an event at Denel's Kempton Park site adjoining Johannesburg airport, the aircraft are now ready for operational use. They will be flown by the service's 16 Sqn from Bloemspruit air base in Bloemfontein.

Denel says the Mk 1 upgrade has introduced modifications to the Rooivalk "to improve its safety and reliability and accuracy of its weapons systems, and to complete all outstanding certification flight testing". The process has required "the significant remanufacturing of certain gearbox mounting components that were found to be out of specification on a number of aircraft," it adds.

SAAF Rooivalk helicopter
 © Christo Crous/SAAF

Conducted at the air force's Test Flight and Development Centre at Bredasdorp from November 2010, the recent assessment included checks on the Rooivalk's "day and night flight operations, target identification and tracking, cannon firing and evaluation of the secure communications modes and self-protection features," says Denel.

The Mk 1 aircraft also has new external fuel tanks that will allow for a 50% increase in its self-deployment range, and the potential to use Denel Dynamics' Mokopa air-to-surface missile.

Series production of 12 Rooivalks for the South African Air Force concluded in 1998, 14 years after the launch of first design activities. With one aircraft having been damaged beyond repair in a landing accident in 2005, the Mk 1 upgrade will be performed on 11 helicopters. "The remaining six will be completed and ready for deployment later this year," Denel says.

"This is a product that the South African public can be proud of - locally designed, locally manufactured and, now, ready for deployment by our local air force," says Denel chief executive Talib Sadik. "Rooivalk is now a modern, sophisticated combat support helicopter, ready to be used by the South African National Defence Force in any of its potential deployed operations."

Source: Flight International