The South African Beast: Denel’s AH-2 Rooivalk Attack Helicopter

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The South African Beast: Denel's AH-2 Rooivalk Attack Helicopter

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The Denel (then Atlas) AH-2 Rooivalk attack helicopter is a project indigenous to South Africa, and is one of the most successful combat helicopters available.

At the time of its development, the Rooivalk was heralded as one of the top performers in existence and even widely regarded to become the best attack helicopter ever made.

The project was a result of South Africa’s need to field a capable attack helicopter.

South Africa has shown a great capacity to develop their own weapon systems due to an international arms embargo that was in effect during the 1970s and -80s.

The company Atlas (before renaming to Denel) had two models prior to the AH-2 Rooivalk attack helicopter.

The XH-1 was based highly on the French-made Aerospatiale Alouette III system, though hardly a dedicated attack helicopter platform and still utilizing 1960’s technology.

The second model came in the form of two converted XTP-1 Beta gunships in the form of Aerospatiale SA 330 Pumas, and they were simply test beds.

Building upon information gained from both test types, designs were being drawn up for the Rooivalk as early as 1984 with the initial flyable XH-2 Rooivalk getting airborne by early 1990.

Although it looks like an entirely new machine, the Rooivalk is based on the South African Oryx utility helicopter, which in turn is a reverse-engineered and upgraded version of the French Aerospatiale Puma.

The Rooivalk uses essentially the same engines and main rotor, but both are slightly upgraded.

The Rooivalk can reach a top speed of 309 km/h and therefore a bit faster than the Apache.

The South African air force has ordered an initial 16 examples as four operational evaluation and 12 operational helicopters.

The South African Beast: Denel's AH-2 Rooivalk Attack Helicopter

Click to see the full-size image

Standard production Rooivalk helicopters feature improved IR exhaust suppressors and enlarged sonson cheeks housing avionics and ammunition.

This gunship helicopter is armed with a nose-mounted ARMSCOR 20 mm cannon. It can carry up to 16 indigenous ZT-6 Mokopa (similar to the US Hellfire missile).

The Mokopa is a very potent anti-tank guided missiles in the world and has a range of 10 km. Alternatively, the Rooivalk can carry smaller US TOW anti-tank guided missiles.

To attack ground targets unguided 70 mm rockets may be used. Their launchers can hold 36 or 72 rockets each.

The Rooivalk can also fight other helicopters using heat-seeking Mistral missiles with a range of 6 km.

In addition to these weapons the Rooivalk is equipped with a gas operated 20 mm caliber M-2 cannon with 700 rounds of ammunition, fixed under the nose. This cannon fires at a rate of 740 rounds per minute and is used against light armored troops and other enemy helicopters, Rooivalk’s most likely targets.

The stepped tandem cockpits for the pilot and co-pilot/gunner (rear and front respectively) have dual controls, as well as three LCD displays. The third one is used for threat warning.

There is no head-up display, but symbology is displayed on the helmet visor in full color.

A gyro-stabilized turret at the nose contains an automatic target detection and tracking system which incorporates a laser rangefinder, forward-looking infra-red and TV camera, and the two crewmen each have a helmet-mounted sight system.

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