The second Ahrlac prototype is undergoing test flying at Wonderboom airport as the programme moves forward.
The first flight of the production ready second prototype took place on 14 July 2017, some three years after the first prototype (XDM) went airborne on 26 July 2014.
Although largely unpainted, it wears the serial number ZU-PDM. Ahrlac Holdings originally planned to produce three Ahrlac prototypes: XDM, ADM and PDM, but this proved unnecessary.
ZU-PDM features a number of differences compared to XDM, such as retractable landing gear, revised cockpit canopies, full mission system, lighter 8 g rated airframe, conformal fuel tanks, weapons, twin ejection seats, more sophisticated avionics, and refined components.
Ahrlac Holdings is producing the Ahrlac at its new facility at Wonderboom. The 15 000 square metre factory will be able to produce two aircraft a month – the factory has several years’ worth of production already allocated. The main factory will employ some 200 people in building the multirole aircraft. It was occupied on 1 May 2017 and has been designed to incorporate the latest flow-processes and computerized shop floor management systems that tracks and monitors every part throughout the production process.
Outfitting of the militarised Mwari version of the Ahrlac will take place at another facility. This will be fitted with mission systems from either Paramount or Boeing, depending on customer requirements, and will include things like infrared and radar sensors, cannon, missiles (such as the Mokopa) and rockets.
“What we have done is to build the first two prototypes on computer by using the most advanced new modules of Katia, Katia kinematics, simulation and CFD analysis,” said Ahrlac programme manager Dr Paul Potgieter. “So we have effectively developed digital prototypes.”
“By the time we built the first prototype that aircraft was built to semi-production standards or production like standards. The second prototype…is fully to production standards.”
98% of the Ahrlac’s 6 000 parts was designed and produced locally and since the aircraft was designed on a computer it allows jigless construction, saving cost and time. There are some 60 components that have been manufactured using 3D printing technology, including printed metal parts.
XDM has accumulated more than 300 hours of flight testing to date and this has included initial performance testing, flying quality testing and flutter testing. The aircraft has been deployed to remote and unprepared air strips, flying long missions in high temperatures and across coastal conditions.
It has integrated and tested a number of sensors, including a stabilised electro-optical sight (EOS) with a high power laser designator, wide area infrared line scanner and synthetic aperture search radar. The avionics system is designed with an open architecture making it ideally suited for the addition of various sensors and mission systems.
Weapon system options include guided munitions, guided rockets, air-to-ground-missiles and a cannon pod.
One of the Ahrlac/Mwari’s most noteworthy features is an Interchangeable Multi-mission Pod System (IMPS) under the aircraft’s nose. The interchangeable pod allows a single airframe to be used in multiple roles with nearly zero down time between role changes. The pod can carry various systems ranging from electronic intelligence, communications intelligence, search and rescue, forward-looking infrared and cargo.