Atlas Oryx

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SAAF-Atlas Oryx-001 (cropped).jpg
A SAAF Atlas Oryx helicopter in flight.
RoleUtility helicopter
National originSouth Africa
Manufacturer Atlas Aircraft Corporation
First flight1986
StatusIn service
Primary user South African Air Force
Developed from Aérospatiale SA 330 Puma

The Atlas Oryx (named after the Oryx antelope) is a medium-sized utility helicopter manufactured by the Atlas Aircraft Corporation (now Denel Aviation) of South Africa.

<i>Oryx</i> genus of mammals

Oryx is a genus consisting of four large antelope species called oryxes. Three of them are native to arid parts of Africa, and the fourth to the Arabian Peninsula. Their fur is pale with contrasting dark markings in the face and on the legs, and their long horns are almost straight. The exception is the scimitar oryx, which lacks dark markings on the legs, only has faint dark markings on the head, has an ochre neck, and horns that are clearly decurved.

Antelope term referring to many even-toed ungulate species

An antelope is a member of a number of even-toed ungulate species indigenous to various regions in Africa and Eurasia. Antelopes comprise a wastebasket taxon within the rare family Bovidae, encompassing those Old World species that are not cattle, sheep, buffalo, bison, or goats; even so, antelope are generally more deer-like than other bovids. A group of antelope is called a herd.

Helicopter Type of rotor craft in which lift and thrust are supplied by rotors

A helicopter, or chopper, is a type of rotorcraft in which lift and thrust are supplied by rotors. This allows the helicopter to take off and land vertically, to hover, and to fly forward, backward, and laterally. These attributes allow helicopters to be used in congested or isolated areas where fixed-wing aircraft and many forms of VTOL aircraft cannot perform.


Design and development

Outside France, the SAAF was the largest user of Aérospatiale SA 330 Puma.[ citation needed ] The Oryx can trace its origins back to the Bush War. Despite the efforts of the gunship Alouette, the need for a dedicated gunship was recognized. Atlas Aircraft Corporation produced an experimental attack helicopter, the Alpha XH-1. This helicopter was used for feasibility studies and could not serve any practical purpose - this led to the more powerful XTP-1 in April 1987. Two XTP-1s were converted, and based on a Puma J airframe. Various weapons and other systems were tested on XTP-1 and paved the way for the Denel Rooivalk. However, the dynamic flight components of the XTP-1 made Atlas realise what advantages an upgraded Puma could have.

Aérospatiale SA 330 Puma medium-lift helicopter family by Sud, later Eurocopter

The Aérospatiale SA 330 Puma is a four-bladed, twin-engined medium transport/utility helicopter. The Puma was originally built by Sud Aviation of France, and continued to be made by Aérospatiale. It was also license-built in Romania as the IAR 330; two advanced, unlicensed derivatives, the Denel Rooivalk and Atlas Oryx, were made in South Africa. The Puma was a commercial success and was quickly developed into more advanced models such as the AS332 Super Puma and AS532 Cougar, manufactured by Eurocopter since the early 1990s. These descendants of the Puma remain in production in the 21st century.

South African Border War The war on the border of South West Africa/Namibia and Angola.

The South African Border War, also known as the Namibian War of Independence, and sometimes denoted in South Africa as the Angolan Bush War, was a largely asymmetric conflict that occurred in Namibia, Zambia, and Angola from 26 August 1966 to 21 March 1990. It was fought between the South African Defence Force (SADF) and the People's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN), an armed wing of the South West African People's Organisation (SWAPO). The South African Border War resulted in some of the largest battles on the African continent since World War II and was closely intertwined with the Angolan Civil War.

A 330L Puma, no. 177, was converted to Oryx configuration and used as a prototype and as the results exceeded all expectations the Oryx programme was launched. The sanctions era encouraged the local aviation industry to become self-sufficient in producing helicopter components and, with the knowledge to assemble pre-manufactured helicopters, led to the technical skill for producing complete Puma helicopters, should the need arise. This included complete airframes and dynamic components such as gearboxes, rotor blades and turbines and hot section parts. The engine intakes are fitted with locally produced dust filters and ensure higher efficiency and reliability.

A South African Air Force Oryx M2 helicopter preparing to take off from USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) 081003-N-6676S-196.jpg
A South African Air Force Oryx M2 helicopter preparing to take off from USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71)

The Oryx is an upgraded and remanufactured version of the Aérospatiale SA 330 Puma, equivalent to the Eurocopter AS332 Super Puma, and offers a performance improvement over the original, in addition to cutting the operating costs by 25 to 30%. First examples were fitted with the latest dust filters as were then in use on the SAAF Puma. These units had a moveable auxiliary air intake on the front. A newly designed dust filter was later fitted without the auxiliary air intake. Should one of the engines fail, the remaining powerplant has sufficient power for the Oryx to complete its mission. If an engine fails in flight, the management system automatically advances the power setting on the remaining engine. This ensures the Oryx sustains flight with very little crew input, during such an emergency.

Eurocopter AS332 Super Puma Medium-lift helicopter series by Aerospatiale, later Airbus Helicopters

The Airbus Helicopters H215 is a four-bladed, twin-engine, medium-size utility helicopter developed and marketed originally by Aérospatiale, later by Eurocopter and currently by Airbus Helicopters. It is a re-engined and more voluminous version of the original Aérospatiale SA 330 Puma. First flying in 1978, the Super Puma succeeded the SA 330 Puma as the main production model of the type in 1980. Since 1990, Super Pumas in military service have been marketed under the AS532 Cougar designation. In civilian service, a next generation successor to the AS 332 was introduced in 2004, the further-enlarged Eurocopter EC225 Super Puma.

The basic airframe is still that of the original Puma, but the structure was modernized by extensive use of locally produced carbon-composite materials. These materials result in an airframe that is lighter and more rugged, which increases the Oryx's endurance and maneuverability. The obvious external difference is the new modified tailboom which is slightly longer (50 cm), than the Puma.

By mid-1991, the SAAF acknowledged that the Oryx was in service, as a replacement for the Puma and Super Frelon. It was shown for the first time to the public at an open day at Potchefstroom in August '91. The Oryx is currently in service with several squadrons of the South African Air Force, with about 35 being in service.

South African Air Force Air warfare branch of the Republic of South Africas armed forces

The South African Air Force (SAAF) is the air force of South Africa, with its headquarters in Pretoria. The South African Air Force was established on 1 February 1920. The Air Force has seen service in World War II and the Korean War. From 1966 the SAAF was involved in providing infantry support in a low intensity war in Angola, South-West Africa (Namibia) and Rhodesia. As the war progressed, the intensity of air operations increased until in the late 1980s, the SAAF were compelled to fly fighter missions against Angolan aircraft in order to maintain tactical air superiority. On conclusion of the Border War in 1990, aircraft numbers were severely reduced due to economic pressures as well as the cessation of hostilities with neighbouring states. Today the SAAF has a limited air combat capability and has been structured towards regional peace-keeping, disaster relief and maritime patrol operations. During the apartheid era, it was known by its Afrikaans name of Suid-Afrikaanse Lugmag, a moniker which has since been depreciated.

The Oryx is a multi-role helicopter. Its main uses in the SAAF are: medium to heavy transport and communications flights, task force rapid deployment operations, fire fighting, and search & rescue missions. It can carry up to 20 fully equipped troops, or 6 wounded on stretchers with 4 attendants, or 3,000 kg freight carried in the cabin, or 4,500 kg freight on an external sling. Tasks for the South African Navy include transport, replenishment at sea, force multiplication, reconnaissance, search & rescue, etc.

South African Navy naval warfare branch of the Republic of South Africas armed forces

The South African Navy (SAN) is the naval warfare branch of the South African National Defence Force. The role of the navy is to prepare for and to conduct naval operations in defence of the South African state, its citizens and interests and to carry out peacetime operations in support of other national objectives.

Most Oryx are equipped with a 50m hydraulic hoist, rated for up to 2 personnel, for use in rescue operations. Additionally a large metal A-frame structure can be fitted in the cargo bay which allows up to 4 personnel to rappel or abseil from the aircraft simultaneously. Oryx operating from coastal squadrons are fitted with emergency flotation gear on the sponsons and nose.

Sponson Protrusion found on the side of some ships, aircraft and vehicles

Sponsons are projections extending from the sides of land vehicles, aircraft or watercraft to provide protection, stability, storage locations, mounting points for weapons or other devices, or equipment housing.

Mid-life upgrade

In 2006, the SAAF initiated a mid life upgrade for 35 Oryx helicopters to extend their service life to the 2015 - 2020 timeframe.[ citation needed ] Due to budgetary restrictions, the upgrade will be limited to airframe life extensions, with a limited communications and navigation upgrade.[ citation needed ] It was initially planned to do a full glass cockpit upgrade.[ citation needed ]


Mark 2 (maritime) variant of the Oryx Oryx helicopter.jpg
Mark 2 (maritime) variant of the Oryx

In its basic platform the design of the Oryx offers a number of advantages and this was further developed from an early stage in the program. With the Denel Rooivalk now in service, this combat helicopter will escort the Oryx in a high threat environment. However, as an interim measure an Oryx with door mounted machine guns did appear. Oryx helicopters are constantly refined and updated. A full glass cockpit is planned for a future update.[ citation needed ] The latest addition is the fitting of flare dispensers and the update of the Threat Warning Receivers.

There is an electronic warfare (stand-off communications jamming/radar jamming) version of the Oryx that is equipped with the Grinaker Systems Technologies (GST) GSY 1501 jamming system, among others. The first Oryx variant with a large log periodic antenna on the starboard side was regarded as quite an effective EW platform. This platform is capable of disrupting key communications during various stages of modern, air-, land-, and sea battles. In addition it is used as an effective training aid to the SANDF, to test their function as an effective fighting force, despite any EW methods employed against the SA Forces. A further advantage is, EW equipment in use by the SA Forces can be effectively evaluated and calibrated under simulated battlefield scenarios. One variant has its main cabin doors replaced by dome shaped antennas.

The Oryx Mk. 2 contains such a number of differences, that a different model number is used, to distinguish the type. Although, operated and flown by 22 Squadron SAAF, these helicopters were specifically build for use by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, as part of the South African National Antarctic Programme. Two Oryx helicopters have been modified for operations in the Southern Ocean and the Antarctic, for which they have been painted in the red and white colour scheme. Highly effective, de-icing equipment, of up rated specification, was the central requirement of the Mk. 2 program.[ citation needed ] The project received the go-ahead on 15 March 1996, with Lt Col K. Viljoen as project leader.[ citation needed ] The project was completed three weeks ahead of schedule and the two helicopters delivered to 22 Sqdn, during October 1997.[ citation needed ] One of the Mk. 2 Oryx helicopters was written off subsequent to a crash landing in July 2004.[ citation needed ]


Flag of South Africa.svg  South Africa


Orthographically projected diagram of the SA330 Puma Line Drawing SA 330 Puma Drawing.svg
Orthographically projected diagram of the SA330 Puma Line Drawing

General characteristics



See also

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  1. "87 Helicopter Flying School". Retrieved 21 October 2014.
  2. "15 Squadron". Retrieved 21 October 2014.
  3. "17 Squadron". Retrieved 21 October 2014.
  4. "19 Squadron". Retrieved 21 October 2014.
  5. "22 Squadron". Retrieved 21 October 2014.