Denel Aviation is to upgrade the on-board communication and navigation systems of the South African Air Force (SAAF) Oryx helicopters.

The systems upgrade will be done as part of the Drummer project aimed at extending the service life of the helicopters.

The upgrade will include the modification and installation of new on-board equipment, development of an interface between the older and newer technologies in the helicopter, development of software for the new navigation computers and final flight testing.

At present Denel Aviation, ARMSCOR and the SAAF have agreed to the communication and navigation systems design baseline. The proto-type aircraft installation phase is expected to begin shortly.

Denel Aviation CEO Ismail Dockrat said the focus of the programme was predominantly systems engineering.

“While the ergonomics of the new systems are critical, developing the appropriate software to drive the new technology has been the most challenging and time-consuming aspect of the project,” he said.

Denel will test all upgrades on its helicopter avionics engineering simulator to ensure proper functionality before fitting them to the actual aircraft.

The firm’s helicopter maintenance, repair and overhaul division will be responsible for subsequent aircraft modification and the final installation of the upgraded system.

Initial flight tests are scheduled for the final quarter of 2009.