A multirole medium-size utility helicopter, Atlas Oryx is manufactured by Denel Aerospace Systems for the South African Air Force (SAAF). Based in South Africa, Denel Aerospace (formerly known as Atlas Aircraft Corporation) is a division of Denel , one of the biggest manufacturers of defence equipment in the country. Oryx is an eight ton helicopter with three cockpit crew seats, 16 troop seats or up to 12 VIP seats. It comes in single-pilot (visual flight rules) and dual-pilot (instrument flight rules) versions.
It is an upgraded and remanufactured version of the Aérospatiale SA 330 Puma, equivalent to the Eurocopter AS332 Super Puma, and offers a performance improvement over the original, in addition to cutting the operating costs by 25 to 30%. First examples were fitted with the latest dust filters as were then in use on the SAAF Puma.
Aérospatiale SA 330 Puma
These units had a moveable auxiliary air intake on the front. A newly designed dust filter was later fitted without the auxiliary air intake. Should one of the engines fail, the remaining powerplant has sufficient power for the Oryx to complete its mission. If an engine fails in flight, the management system automatically advances the power setting on the remaining engine. This ensures the Oryx sustains flight with very little crew input, during such an emergency.
A 330L Puma, SAAF no. 177, was converted to Oryx configuration and used as a prototype and as the results exceeded all expectations the Oryx programme was launched. The sanctions era encouraged the local aviation industry to become self-sufficient in producing helicopter components and, with the knowledge to assemble pre-manufactured helicopters, led to the technical skill for producing complete Puma helicopters, should the need arise. This included complete airframes and dynamic components such as gearboxes, rotor blades and turbines and hot section parts.
The basic airframe is still that of the original Puma, but the structure was modernized by extensive use of locally produced carbon-composite materials. These materials result in an airframe that is lighter and more rugged, which increases the Oryx's endurance and manoeuvrability. The obvious external difference is the new modified tail boom which is slightly longer (50 cm), than the Puma.
By mid-1991, the SAAF acknowledged that the Oryx was in service, as a replacement for the Puma and Super Frelon. It was shown for the first time to the public at an open day at Potchefstroom in August '91. The Oryx is currently in service with several squadrons of the South African Air Force, 87 Helicopter Flying School, 15 Squadron, 17 Squadron, 19 Squadron and 22 Squadron.
The Oryx main uses in the SAAF are: medium to heavy transport and communications flights, task force rapid deployment operations, firefighting, search & rescue missions and VIP Transport. It can carry up to 20 fully equipped troops, or 6 wounded on stretchers with 4 attendants, or 3,000 kg freight carried in the cabin, or 4,500 kg freight on an external sling. Tasks for the SA Navy include transport, replenishment at sea, force multiplication, reconnaissance, search & rescue, etc.
Most Oryx are equipped with a 50m hydraulic hoist, rated for up to 2 personnel, for use in rescue operations. Additionally a large metal A-frame structure can be fitted in the cargo bay which allows up to 4 personnel to rappel or abseil from the aircraft simultaneously.
Oryx operating from coastal squadrons are fitted with emergency flotation gear on the sponsons and nose.
In early April 1986 Armscor set about a clandestine project to acquire the Makila turboshaft engines which had already been successfully flown on the SA 330R, and the development of the Super Puma. In a complex operation believed to involve Beverley Securities Incorporated, Aerospatiale, the Portuguese Air Force, and the Portuguese companies INDEP and OGMA; Armscor agreed to pay for the upgrade of the Portuguese Air Force Pumas which entailed fitting Makila 1A turboshafts to the standard Puma airframe. This upgrade package was supplied in kit form by Aerospatiale. This deal was worth about $3 billion and Aerospatiale continued delivering these kits to Portugal where, apart from those used for upgrading the Portuguese aircraft, the remainder were delivered to South Africa via a front company in Zaire over a five-year period.
The Romanian company IAR, which produced the Puma under licence, supplied 50 Puma airframes without tail booms in 1986, which helped South Africa to develop the Oryx. South Africa chose the IAR airframe over airframes from other Puma manufacturers due to IAR using carbon-composite materials which are lighter, stronger and also include sponson fuel tanks, giving an extended range.
In 2006, the SAAF initiated a mid life upgrade for 35 Oryx helicopters to extend their service life to the 2015 - 2020 timeframe. Due to budgetary restrictions, the upgrade will be limited to airframe life extensions, with a limited communications and navigation upgrade. It was initially planned to do a full glass cockpit upgrade.
In its basic platform the design of the Oryx offers a number of advantages and this was further developed from an early stage in the program. With the Denel Rooivalk now in service, this combat helicopter will escort the Oryx in a high threat environment. However, as an interim measure an Oryx with door mounted machine guns did appear.
Oryx helicopters are constantly refined and updated. A full glass cockpit is planned for a future update. The latest addition is the fitting of flare dispensers and the update of the Threat Warning Receivers.
There is an electronic warfare (stand-off communications jamming/radar jamming) version of the Oryx that is equipped with the Grinaker Systems Technologies (GST) GSY 1501 jamming system, among others. The first Oryx variant with a large log periodic antenna on the starboard side was regarded as quite an effective EW platform. This platform is capable of disrupting key communications during various stages of modern, air-, land-, and sea battles. In addition it is used as an effective training aid to the SANDF, to test their function as an effective fighting force, despite any EW methods employed against the SA Forces. A further advantage is, EW equipment in use by the SA Forces can be effectively evaluated and calibrated under simulated battlefield scenarios. One variant has its main cabin doors replaced by dome shaped antennas.
The Oryx Mk. 2 contains such a number of differences, that a different model number is used, to distinguish the type. Although, operated and flown by 22 Squadron SAAF, these helicopters were specifically built for use by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, as part of the South African National Antarctic Programme. Two Oryx helicopters have been modified for operations in the Southern Ocean and the Antarctic, for which they have been painted in the red and white colour scheme.
Highly effective, de-icing equipment, of up rated specification, was the central requirement of the Mk. 2 program. The project received the go-ahead on 15 March 1996, with Lt Col K. Viljoen as project leader. The project was completed three weeks ahead of schedule and the two helicopters delivered to 22 Sqdn, during October 1997. One of the Mk. 2 Oryx helicopters was written off subsequent to a crash landing in July 2004.
Capacity: 20 fully equipped troops
Length: 15.45 m (50 ft 8 in)
Height: 5.14 m (16 ft 10 in)
Empty weight: 3,600 kg (7,937 lb)
Max takeoff weight: 8,000 kg (17,637 lb)
Powerplant: 2 × Turbomeca Makila IA1 turboshaft engines, 1,400 kW (1,900 hp) each
Main rotor diameter: 15.6 m (51 ft 2 in)
Main rotor area: 191 m2 (2,060 sq ft)
Maximum speed: 306 km/h (190 mph; 165 kn)
Combat range: 303 km (188 mi; 164 nmi)
Ferry range: 2,000 km (1,243 mi; 1,080 nmi)
Service ceiling: 7,162 m (23,497 ft)
Rate of climb: 15.25 m/s (3,002 ft/min)
Guns: 2 × door-mounted 7.62 mm machine guns (optional; either FN MAG or Denel SS-77)