Denel Rooivalk

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Denel Rooivalk flying 2006.jpg
A Rooivalk flying at the Ysterplaat air show in 2006
Role Attack helicopter
Manufacturer Denel
First flight 15 January 1990[citation needed]
Introduction 1 April 2011
Status In service
Primary user South African Air Force
Produced 1990-2007
Number built 12
Unit cost
$40 million (2007, estimated)[1]
Developed from Aérospatiale Puma

The Denel Rooivalk (previously designated AH-2 and CSH-2) is an attack helicopter manufactured by Denel of South Africa. Rooivalk is Afrikaans for "Red Kestrel".[2]

The South African Air Force (SAAF) ordered 12 Rooivalks, designated the Rooivalk Mk 1 in SAAF service, the first of was officially handed over in April 2011.[3] The helicopters are flown by 16 Squadron, which is 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 accordingly set along the process of developing a suitable aircraft.

The Atlas XH-1 Alpha was the first prototype to emerge from the program. It was developed from an Aérospatiale Alouette III airframe, retaining that helicopter's engine and dynamic components, but replacing the original cockpit with a stepped tandem one, adding a 20 mm cannon on the nose and converting the undercarriage to tail-dragger configuration. The XH-1 first flew on 3 February 1985. The results were ultimately good enough to convince Atlas and the SAAF that the concept was feasible, opening the door for the development of the Rooivalk.

During the Rooivalk's development it was decided to base the aircraft on the dynamic components of the Aérospatiale Super Puma,[4] a larger and more powerful helicopter. These components were already used on the Atlas Oryx, a local upgrade and modification of the Aérospatiale Puma.[1]


A Rooivalk at AFB Ysterplaat in Cape Town, South Africa

Due to the SAAF's decades of helicopter experience in the harsh African environment, the Rooivalk has been designed to operate for prolonged periods without sophisticated support. All that is needed to keep the Rooivalk flying is a medium transport helicopter equipped with a basic spares supply plus four groundcrew.

The Rooivalk carries a range of weapons depending on the mission profile. It is generally fitted with a nose-mounted 20 mm cannon and can also carry air-to-air missiles, anti-armour missiles and unguided rockets. The Rooivalk has a fire control system for target acquisition and tracking as well as an advanced navigation system using Doppler radar and GPS. Also incorporated is an electronic countermeasures suite coupled with chaff and flare dispensers.

Notable features include a tandem cockpit, starboard tail rotor with a port tailplane, a fixed wheeled undercarriage as well as wire cutters above and below the cockpit and on the undercarriage. When the Rooivalk first came out, it was the only helicopter in the world that could do a backflip.[5]

The following types of missions are foreseen for the Rooivalk: Reconnaissance, heliborne escort, close air support, deep penetration and anti-armour.

Operational service[edit]

Two SAAF Rooivalk Attack Helicopters serving as part of the United Nations Force Intervention Brigade escorting a UN delegation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

By April 2005, only six of the 12 aircraft were available for operational test and evaluation with the others in need of software upgrades. The Chief of the South African Air Force, Lt. Gen. Carlo Gagiano, hoped that the helicopters would be ready around June 2007, indicating the "extremely worrying factor of time that the project was taking to reach maturity", attributing the delays to the exodus of personnel from Denel as well as its financial problems. This has forced the SAAF to assess alternative defence development partners.[6]

One airframe was damaged beyond repair on 3 August 2005 after an "uncontrolled landing".[7]

On 17 May 2007, Denel group CEO Shaun Liebenberg announced a decision[8] to cease further development and funding for the Rooivalk as an export product following its failure to win the Turkish attack helicopter tender[9] against the Agusta A129 Mangusta.

During November 2007, Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota announced in Parliament, that the SAAF was to invest R962 million (about US$137 million in 2007 exchange rates) in the helicopter over three years to 2010/2011, in order to bring it up to full operational status. The helicopter will be deployed on peace-keeping duties as soon as initial operating capability is achieved.[10]

On 1 April 2011, the SAAF received the first five of eleven (one of the twelve aircraft originally delivered to the SAAF was written off after an accident) Block 1F upgraded Rooivalk. The upgrade involves improved targeting systems and other avionics which enable the helicopter to use guided missiles for the first time. The Mokopa ATGM was qualified as part of the upgrade process.[11] Gearbox components were improved and cooling problems with the F2 20 mm cannon were also addressed.[12][13] The ninth and tenth Rooivalk attack helicopters were delivered in September 2012 following their upgrade to the Block 1F initial operating standard.[14] The eleventh and final Rooivalk was delivered on 13 March 2013.[15]

South African Rooivalk Attack Helicopter over FIB base in Sake 2014

Three Rooivalk attack helicopters have been deployed with the United Nations Force Intervention Brigade to support the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2013.[16]

On 4 November 2013, two Rooivalks with the United Nations Force Intervention Brigade fired FZ 90 70mm FFAR rockets on M23 positions near Chanzu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[17]

Preserved Aircraft[edit]

The first prototype Rooivalk XDM, SAAF serial 683, is on static display at the South African Air Force Museum, Swartkop Air Force Base, Pretoria.


 South Africa


Data from [19]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 2 (pilot & weapon systems officer)
  • Length: 18.73 m[20] (61 ft 5 12 in)
  • Rotor diameter: 15.58 m (51 ft 1 12 in)
  • Height: 5.19 m (17 ft 0¼ in)
  • Disc area: 190.60 m2 (2,052.1 sq ft)
  • Empty weight: 5,730 kg (12,632 lb)
  • Loaded weight: 7,500 kg (16,535 lb)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 8,750 kg (19,290 lb)
  • Powerplant: 2 × Turbomeca Makila 1K2 turboshafts, 1,420 kW (1,904 shp) each
  • Internal fuel capacity: 1,854 L (489.8 US gallons)



See also[edit]

Related development
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
Related lists


  1. ^ a b Campbell, Keith (2007-06-08). "What went wrong with the Rooivalk?". Engineering News. 
  2. ^ Frawley, Gerard. The International Directiory of Military Aircraft, p. 71. Aerospace Publications Pty Ltd, 2002. ISBN 1-875671-55-2.
  3. ^ Campbell, Keith (2012-04-01). "SAAF finally takes delivery of fully operational Rooivalk helicopters". 
  4. ^ Dely, Frans (2004). Soaring with Eagles (no page numbers, section on 16 Sqdn). Avpix Publishing Pty Ltd. ISBN 0-620-32806-1. 
  5. ^ Kemm, Kelvin (2011-04-22). "The Rooivalk – a symbol of national pride and a boost to foreign policy muscle power". Engineering News. 
  6. ^ Hosken, Graeme (2005-04-26). "Rooivalk delays endanger SA's peacekeeping role". Pretoria News. Archived from the original on 2007-06-16. Retrieved 2007-05-18. 
  7. ^ "SAAF Rooivalk fleet nearing operational status". Retrieved 2013-03-15. 
  8. ^ Ensor, Linda (2007-05-18). "Denel gets R8bn shot in the arm, ditches Rooivalk". Business Day. Archived from the original on 2007-09-21. Retrieved 2007-05-18. 
  9. ^ "Agusta wins Turkish attack helicopter contract". International Herald Tribune. 2007-03-30. Retrieved 2007-05-18. 
  10. ^ Engelbrecht, Leon (2007-11-12). "More money for Rooivalk". ITWeb. 
  11. ^ "Denel's Mokopa PGM ready for market". DefenceWeb. 2011-01-26. Retrieved 2013-03-15. 
  12. ^ "SAAF ceremonially receives Rooivalk". DefenceWeb. 2011-04-01. Retrieved 2013-03-15. 
  13. ^ "First five Rooivalk now in service". DefenceWeb. 2011-04-04. Retrieved 2013-03-15. 
  14. ^ David Donald (2012-09-28). "Gripen, Rooivalk Deliveries Bring SAAF up to Strength | Aviation International News". Retrieved 2013-03-15. 
  15. ^ a b "Final Rooivalk Handover Cements Relationship Between Denel and SAAF". Retrieved 2013-03-15. 
  16. ^ "Exclusive: Rooivalk is going to DRC". DefenceWeb. 2013-10-11. Retrieved 2013-10-13. 
  17. ^ Olivier, Darren (2013-11-05). "Rooivalk attack helicopters perform well in first combat action against M23". African Defence Review. Retrieved 2013-11-05. 
  18. ^ "SAAF Current aircraft". Retrieved 21 October 2014. 
  19. ^ Lindsay Peacock; Paul Jackson; Kenneth Munson, eds. (2003). Jane's all the world's aircraft, 2003-2004 (94th ed.). Coulsdon, Surrey, UK: Jane's Information Group. pp. 442–443. ISBN 0-7106-2537-5. 
  20. ^ Overall length (rotors turning). 16.39 m (53 ft 9¼ in) fuselage length.
  21. ^ "F2 20mm Cannon". SA Airforce Unofficial Website. Retrieved 23 February 2015. 
  22. ^ "FZ 90 70mm FFAR". SA Airforce Unofficial Website. Retrieved 23 February 2015. 

External links[edit]