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The SAAF’s Oryx helicopter gets life extension
Article by Capt Ntokozo Ntshangase; photos by Cpl Mabelina Mokoatle (5ASU)

The South African Air Force (SAAF) has received 39 newly modified Oryx Medium Transport Helicopter from Chief of Defence Matériel, Mr Mthobisi Zondi during the symbolic hand-over ceremony held at Air Force Base Waterkloof on 15 September 2016. The modification, which saw the Oryx helicopter fleet being fitted with new dynamic components, engines and avionics systems, was conducted under Project DRUMMER.

                               Chief of Defence Matériel, Mr Mthobisi Zondi and Deputy Chief of SA Air Force,
                        Maj Gen Gerald Malinga during the symbolic hand-over of the newly modified Oryx Meduim helicopter

The Project was initiated to address the decline in the lifecycle of the Oryx helicopter, which was caused among other things by, the obsolesce of major avionics systems. In an attempt to address the state of decline, the SAAF registered the mentioned project for modifications thereof.

Speaking during the ceremony, the Deputy Chief of Air Force, Maj Gen Gerald Malinga noted that the completion of project DRUMMER provides the SAAF with a rejuvenated platform, which will allow the organisation to improve its availability and operational effectiveness. According to him, the Project “has bridged the technology gap between the old analogue to digital systems in order to achieve greater and better performance. It allowed the organisation to redefine and refine production and assembly in terms of processes within the industry”.

                                    A newly modified Oryx Medium Transport Helicopter

The Project allowed for locally based skills transition and transfer, which saw “more than fifteen sub-contractors on the project proving beyond reasonable doubt the significance of exploiting local capabilities before looking for solutions elsewhere”, said Mr Zondi whilst reiterating the importance and economic relevance of the Project. Both Maj Gen Malinga and Mr Zondi believed that the Project left a lasting legacy in terms of capacity building. They posited that the teams that worked on the project did not only “hone and sharpen their talents, bringing in current best practices, but provided the South African Defence Industry with the opportunity to introduce and expose the next generation of technically talented and competent personnel to the aerospace environment”.

The Director Air Force Acquisition, Brig Gen Khaya Mtirara commended the level of professionalism and commitment displayed by various teams towards the successful completion of Project DRUMMER. He mentioned that the project recruited core technical teams, which “gained knowledge and skills from the Cheetah, Rooivalk and other associated programmes”. There was a consensus from various speakers that the life extension of the Oryx aircraft has a “direct and positive impact on the processes of production and maintenance” as the project has created additional skill sets across the value chain. Notwithstanding the recorded achievements, Brig Gen Mtirara acknowledged that there were challenges and mistakes committed during the upgrade, however, they saw them as a learning curve that will assist with future projects.

                         Director Air Force Acquisition, Brig Gen Khaya Mtirara provided an insight on Project DRUMMER

DRUMMER was divided into two phases. Phase one was primarily focused on the dynamic components upgrade and engine overhaul. The second phase dealt with communication and navigation system as well as the obsolescence management of the Oryx fleet. The last upgraded aircraft was delivered to the Air Force in July 2016.

A milestone event deserving an appropriate military protocol



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