The Ecuadorian Air Force's (FAE) fleet of 12 Denel Aviation-built Atlas Cheetah supersonic fighters have successfully completed local test flights, marking a step toward their entry into operational service.
Denel Aviation CEO, Mike Kgobe, said: ''All the stringent tests have now been completed and the Cheetahs were declared ready for operational deployment.''
Denel group chief executive, Riaz Saloojee, said a total of ten Cheetah C and two Cheetah D fighters have been delivered to the air force.
''Our future partnership with the Ecuadorian Air Force will provide an important platform to showcase local capabilities for maintenance, repair and overhaul work to the rest of the world,'' Saloojee said.
The Cheetahs were delivered in four batches to the air force, with the final shipment completed in January 2012, as part of a $78m contract signed in November 2010, to help replace the FAE's ageing fleet of 12 Mirage F1JA fighter jets.
The contract also included the supply of a comprehensive maintenance and support service for at least five years following the sale, with an option for renewal.
Denel delivered technical and logistics support required by local teams for conducting field tests. Denel also provided extensive conversion training for flying and maintenance of the aircraft to the Ecuadorian pilots and ground support staff.
Developed from the Dassault Mirage III fighter, the Atlas Cheetah is a single-seat multirole fighter aircraft equipped with Elta EL-2001 radar to support both air-to-air and air-to-ground combat missions.
The fighters were originally used by the South African Air Force (SAAF), but were later sold to FAE following their retirement in the wake of South Africa's acquisition of a new fleet of Saab JAS 39 Gripen fighter jets under the Strategic Defence package acquisition programmes.
Image: A Cheetah E fighter aircraft stationed at the South African Air Force Museum in Pretoria. Photo: courtesy of NJR ZA.