Flight of fancy be­comes a re­al­ity

CityPress - - News - XOLANI MBAN­JWA xolani.mban­jwa@city­press.co.za

Paramount Group, Africa’s largest pri­vately owned arms dealer, has cre­ated an air­craft that is more like some­thing out of a Transformers movie than a plane – and it’s South African born and bred. Its mak­ers say the Ad­vanced High Per­for­mance Re­con­nais­sance Light Air­craft (AHRLAC) is the first of its kind in the world be­cause it can trans­form and do the job of four separately built air­craft cur­rently used by the mil­i­tary and civil­ians. Its de­sign means the plane can go from mon­i­tor­ing traf­fic from the air to be­ing fit­ted with 20mm can­nons, ma­chine guns and drones in min­utes.

It can stay in the air for up to seven hours with­out re­fu­elling. Speak­ing on Wed­nes­day at the launch of the craft at Won­der­boom Air­port, west of Pre­to­ria, Paramount Group chair­per­son Ivor Ichikowitz said he first pitched the idea to 200 in­vestors in 2009.

“Of the 200 peo­ple on that day, 199 said it couldn’t be done,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to him, the two-man air­craft could carry out a wide range of op­er­a­tions, in­clud­ing sur­veil­lance, polic­ing, border and coastal pa­trol, as well as an­ti­smug­gling and an­tipoach­ing op­er­a­tions.

“South Africa and the con­ti­nent must cel­e­brate this achieve­ment in aero­space be­cause this in­dus­try plays a ma­jor role in eco­nomic devel­op­ment,” he said.

“What is of­ten not recog­nised is that the African de­fence and aero­space in­dus­try is more than up to the chal­lenge.”

The AHRLAC was built by 60 lo­cal en­gi­neers and tech­ni­cians who used South African ma­te­ri­als to man­u­fac­ture 6 000 parts for the air­craft.

Paul Pot­gi­eter, AHRLAC Hold­ings’ chief ex­ec­u­tive, said full-scale pro­duc­tion for sale would be­gin within the next two years, but he de­clined to re­veal the price tag, cit­ing “com­pany con­fi­den­tial­ity”.

“There’s al­ready in­ter­est not only on the African con­ti­nent but world­wide,” Pot­gi­eter said.

Paramount South Africa chief ex­ec­u­tive Florence Musengi said there was a need to grow young lo­cal tal­ent in re­search and devel­op­ment in the aero­space sec­tor.

“The suc­cess of the project shows that South Africa can be on the cut­ting edge of the aero­space in­dus­try and that we are grow­ing our skills base,” said Musengi.

PHOTO: EL­IZ­A­BETH SEJAKE

ADAPT­ABLE The AHRLAC pre­pares for its maiden flight from Won­der­boom Air­port out­side Pre­to­ria

Ivor Ichikowitz

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