Denel Test Pilots Spreading Their Wings Into Africa

By on Monday, February 4th, 2013

The company now has a mobile telemetry support vehicle which is capable of supporting flight tests at remote locations, says Mike Kgobe, the Chief Executive Officer of Denel Aviation. In the past this highly-specialized test flying could only be conducted within South Africa.

Mr Kgobe says this service is part of Denel Aviation’s initiative to grow its business in Africa. “We are taking our highly-skilled pilots and engineers as well as our state-of-the-art technology to the client, cutting the costs and efforts to fly the planes out to South Africa for testing.”

The company is also expanding its maintenance and repair services to the rapidly growing number of military and civilian aircraft criss-crossing the continent.

“We are playing an increasingly important role to support defence forces and the commercial aviation industry in Africa through flight testing and top quality maintenance of their fleets,” says Mr Kgobe.

Experimental flight testing is one of the specialized services provided by Denel Aviation. The test pilots and flight test engineers have the responsibility to ensure that every aircraft that leaves the company’s facilities following maintenance or repair work is in top shape and ready for full flying duties.

The Flight Test Centre at Denel Aviation offers a highly specialized and sought-after service to the aviation market both locally and abroad. Combining state-of-the-art facilities and telemetry with world-class flight test personnel has contributed to the centre’s growing reputation in the global aerospace community.

This is highly specialized flying,” explains Derick Matthee, the Manager of the Flight Test Center. Only the best and most experienced pilots are entrusted with these unique, and often dangerous, responsibilities. Test Pilot applicants need a minimum of 750 hours of pilot-in-command time and be medically qualified to perform flight duties, while the engineers need a bachelor’s degree in math, science or engineering plus medically qualified to perform flight duties.

The elite group of experimental test pilots have all gained their initial experience in the military followed by the professional test pilots course at test pilot schools in the USA, and the United Kingdom.

Their skills and experience mean that they are adept in flying almost any type of aircraft – from fighter jets, to transport aircraft to sophisticated modern helicopters.

Denel Aviation Flight Test capabilities and resources allow completing the full cycle of system testing whether it is airborne or ground based. The center can also provide expertise and support for each individual task within the project.

Mobile and “Strap-on” data acquisition and processing systems can be tailored to the customer needs and requirements both locally and internationally.

“Our primary responsibility is aviation safety,” says Mr Matthee. “Once the aircraft has passed our flight testing the client can be absolutely assured that it is 100% safe and ready for regular flying duties.”

The unique skills of its staff and the sophistication of the facilities and equipment make Denel Aviation a much sought-after venue for international clients.

Located at an elevation of 5 500 feet above sea level and with summer temperatures reaching 35°C the Flight Test Centre is uniquely suited for “hot and high testing” of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. It offers clients a runway length of 4 400 metres at the O R Tambo International and test airspace is allocated only 10 nautical miles from Denel Aviation.

Sea level testing is conducted at Denel’s Overberg Test Range on the southernmost tip of Africa. It was at this venue where the test pilots recently participated in the testing of the A-Darter air-to-air-missile, jointly developed by Denel Dynamics and Brazil.

The list of work successfully done for international clients is growing by the day. On the fixed wing side DAv recently completed engine development testing for the Hawk-120 Lead-in Fighter Trainer acquired by the SAAF, did air-to-air refueling testing between a Mirage III and an IL78 Tanker and supported the establishment of the Gripen Flight Test Center at Air Force Base Overberg.

The recent delivery of 12 Cheetah fighter jets to the Ecuadorian Air Force (FAE) was preceded by extensive flight testing and the training of the FAE pilots by Denel Aviation.

New partnerships and contracts for maintenance, repair and overhaul work to be performed by DAv require flying proficiency on new makes and models of aircraft. In addition to the development work performed on South Africa’s own Rooivalk and Oryx fleets the rotary wing has done qualification testing on the Agusta A109 LUH and maintenance test flying on the Russian made Mil Mi-24 and Kamov-32 as well as helicopters in the Puma and Alouette ranges.

“The unrivaled qualities and experience of the company’s test personnel are matched by the facilities and world-class equipment offered by Denel Aviation,” says Mr Kgobe. Real-time data processing, formatting and display are performed by dedicated work stations through an open network data system.

The flight test engineering and piloting capabilities offered by DAv include test planning and coordination from the user requirement stage up to the generation of a final Flight Test Report.

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