The Denel Rooivalk (previously designated AH-2 and CSH-2) is an attack helicopter manufactured by Denel Aviation of South Africa. Rooivalk is Afrikaans for "Red Falcon". Development of the type began in 1984 by the Atlas Aircraft Corporation, its development is closely connected to the Atlas Oryx transport helicopter, both aircraft being based on the Aérospatiale SA 330 Puma and having started development at the same time.
Development of the Rooivalk was protracted due to the impact of limited budgets during the 1990s, and a desire to produce a highly advanced attack helicopter. The South African Air Force (SAAF) ordered 12 Rooivalk, designated the Rooivalk Mk 1 in SAAF service, the first of was officially handed over in April 2011. The helicopters are flown by 16 Squadron, based at AFB Bloemspruit near Bloemfontein.
The Rooivalk project began in early 1984 under the auspices of the Atlas Aircraft Corporation, a predecessor of Denel Aviation. Faced with the increasingly conventional nature of the South African Border War, the South African Defence Force recognised the need for a dedicated attack helicopter and began developing a suitable aircraft. The helicopter was to escort helicopter troop transports, conduct strike missions upon anti-aircraft positions, and effectively counter the increasing presence of Soviet tanks; in the latter role, it was to be equipped with anti-tank missiles. At the time, South Africa was under an arms embargo enacted by United Nations Security Council Resolution 418 due to its policy of apartheid, which prevented foreign combat helicopters from being imported.
Developing an entirely new helicopter from scratch would have involved designing and developing many accompanying subsystems and components, such as the turboshaft engines and the dynamic systems, such as the main and tail rotor systems and the gearboxes. Due to the great difficulty posed by the prospects of designing and manufacturing a clean-design helicopter, which would have substantially increased the cost and timescale of the project, it was decided to base the attack helicopter upon an existing design. At the time, the SAAF operated two principal helicopter types – the Aérospatiale Alouette III and the Aérospatiale SA 330 Puma. The Alouette III was a small helicopter which originated from the 1960s; due to the age of the design and a lack of engine power, it was not considered a favourable candidate for further development work.
The Puma was substantially larger and was equipped with more powerful engines; both factors provided a broader basis for the accommodation of additional equipment and for potential growth. Another key factor for its selection was the parallel development of a localised and improvement model of the Puma in South Africa, known as the Atlas Oryx. The Oryx possessed an increased power-to-weight ratio and had improved performance in the high temperature climate that the type was typically being operated in; development of the Oryx was far quicker than what would become the Rooivalk as it was a more straightforward program. Other potential sources were mooted, such as the use of propulsion elements of the Aérospatiale SA 365 Dauphin; the adoption of these components has been speculated to have likely resulted in a smaller and potentially more economic rotorcraft.
Ultimately, it was decided to adopt both the powerplant and dynamic systems of the Oryx—which bore significant similarities to their Puma and Aérospatiale AS332 Super Puma ancestors—as the basis for the planned attack helicopter; commonality with the Oryx systems would simplify logistics and reduce maintenance costs. This meant that the attack helicopter would have a significantly large airframe, giving it long range and the capability to carry many sensors and armaments. During the 1980s, the defence budgets of South Africa were relatively generous, especially in contrast to later decades, thus Denel sought to provide a rotorcraft that would be amongst, even potentially superior to, the best attack helicopters in the world. The helicopter, later named the Rooivalk, was envisioned as an agile, highly sophisticated gunship, especially suited to the threats of the Angolan theatre and countering vehicles such as the T-55 tank.
The Atlas XH-1 Alpha was the first prototype to emerge from the program. It was developed from an Alouette III airframe, retaining that helicopter's engine and dynamic components; modifications included the replacement of the original cockpit with a stepped tandem counterpart, the addition of a 20 mm cannon on the nose and the conversion of the undercarriage to a tail-dragger configuration. On 3 February 1985, the XH-1 conducted its maiden flight. The results of flight tests of the XH-1 were ultimately good enough to convince both Atlas and the SAAF that the concept was feasible, opening the door to proceed with the development of the Rooivalk
Data from Jane's All The World's Aircraft, 2003–2004
Crew: 2 (pilot & weapon systems officer)
Length: 18.73 m (61 ft 5 in) overall
16.39 m (54 ft) fuselage only
Height: 5.19 m (17 ft 0 in)
Empty weight: 5,730 kg (12,632 lb)
Gross weight: 7,500 kg (16,535 lb)
Max takeoff weight: 8,750 kg (19,290 lb)
Fuel capacity: 1,854 l (490 US gal; 408 imp gal)
Powerplant: 2 × Turbomeca Makila 1K2 turboshaft engines, 1,420 kW (1,900 hp) each
Main rotor diameter: × 15.58 m (51 ft 1 in)
Main rotor area: 190.6 m2 (2,052 sq ft)
Blade section:NACA 0015
Cruise speed: 278 km/h (173 mph, 150 kn) at sea level (max cruise)
Never exceed speed: 309 km/h (192 mph, 167 kn)
Range: 740 km (460 mi, 400 nmi) at sea level (max cruise)
Ferry range: 720 km (450 mi, 390 nmi) at 1,525 m (5,003 ft) (max external fuel)
Service ceiling: 6,100 m (20,000 ft)
Rate of climb: 13.3 m/s (2,620 ft/min)
1 × F2 20 mm cannon, 700 rounds
8 or 16 × Mokopa ZT-6 long-range anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM),
4 × MBDA Mistral air-to-air missiles,
38 or 76 × 70 mm rockets folding fin aerial rockets (FFAR) or Wrap-Around (WA) (FZ90 70mm WA)