Altlas Oryx multirole helicopter

A multirole medium-size utility helicopter, Atlas Oryx is manufactured by Denel Aerospace Systems for the South African Air Force (SAAF). Based in South Africa, Denel Aerospace (formerly known as Atlas Aircraft Corporation) is a division of Denel (Pyt), one of the biggest manufacturers of defence equipment in the country. Oryx is an 8t helicopter with three cockpit crew seats, 16 troop seats or up to 12 VIP seats. It comes in single-pilot (visual flight rules) and dual-pilot (instrument flight rules) versions.

Oryx was first launched in 1991 as a transport helicopter for the SAAF. It can accommodate a crew of three members, 20 fully equipped troops or six wounded personnel on stretchers with four attendants. Oryx can carry 6,000kg of cargo on the external sling or 3,600kg of freight in the cabin.

On 10 May 2007, Denel Aviation received Eurocopter accreditation, which allows Denel Aviation’s maintenance repair and overhaul (MRO) facility to provide dynamic components of the Oryx aircraft in South Africa as well as the African continent. The accreditation also provides complete access and exposure to international best practices.

Oryx helicopter upgrade programme

Denel Aviation is planning to upgrade the on-board communication and navigation systems of Oryx helicopters under SAAF’s R460m Drummer II project launched in 2008. The Drummer is a mid-life upgrade programme to extend the service life of 38 Oryx helicopters in the SAAF’s inventory. It was initially scheduled for completion in June 2012 but due to delays in the engineering and flight testing, the completion has been pushed to October 2014.

“Atlas Oryx is manufactured by Denel Aerospace Systems for the South African Air Force (SAAF).”

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

The Armaments Corporation of South Africa (ARMSCOR) and the SAAF have agreed on a communication and navigation systems baseline. The prototype aircraft installation phase is due to begin soon. Denel Aviation’s helicopter MRO division will test all upgrades on the helicopter avionics engineering simulator before fitting it to the actual aircraft so as to ensure proper functionality and safety.

Oryx helicopter design

The Oryx helicopter is an upgraded version of Aerospatiale Puma, a transport and utility helicopter equivalent to the Eurocopter Super Puma, a medium-sized utility helicopter. Oryx provides higher performance and efficiency compared with the original and reduces the operating costs by 25% to 30%. The mean time between failures (MTBF) is also higher for the Oryx.

The basic airframe of the Oryx is similar to that of Puma helicopter. The external structure was upgraded with a new tailboom which is 50cm bigger than the Puma. The fuselage of the Oryx is longer than that of Puma and shorter than that of Super Puma. The structure of the Oryx was altered with the use of carbon-composite materials which are lighter and tougher. Use of carbon-composite materials has also increased the Oryx’s performance and manoeuvrability.

The Oryx is equipped with powerplants, dynamics systems such as main and tail gearboxes and the Super Puma’s tailboom. A 50m hydraulic hoist is also installed in the Oryx to perform search and rescue operations efficiently.

The various missions carried out by the Oryx include medium to heavy transport and communications, rapid deployment of task force, and search and rescue functions. The helicopter is employed by the South African Navy for transport, force multiplication, and search and rescue operations. It is also used for replenishment at sea, reconnaissance and medical evacuation (six stretchers plus two attendants seated).

Cockpit and avionics

The helicopter is fitted with advanced avionics suite including a GPS / INS navigation system and weather radar with mapping facility. It is also equipped with state-of-the-art instrumentation in a semi-glass cockpit. The Oryx cockpit is night vision goggle (NVG) compatible. Oryx is also equipped with locally manufactured radio which is used for ground communications.

Oryx helicopter variants

Oryx has four variants: Oryx, Oryx M, Oryx M1 and Oryx M2. The basic Oryx variant is used by inland squadrons. The Oryx M (maritime version) variant is principally used in coastal environment by the 15 Squadron in Durban. A floatation gear and marine band radios were installed in this variant. Oryx M is painted with full gloss white and Akzo Matt schemes.

“Oryx was first launched in 1991 as a transport helicopter for the South African Air Force.”

The third variant, the Oryx M1, is an upgraded version of the Oryx M. 22 Squadron in Cape Town uses this variant for shipborne roles. It is equipped with main rotor blade folding and control stick immobilisation.

Oryx M2, the fourth variant, is derived from the M1 version. It is principally used in cold regions such as Marion and Gough Island, as well as in Antarctica by the 22 Squadron. The M2 variant has ice detection, anti-icing and de-icing capabilities and is equipped with cockpit foot warmers, MATAIR radios, all windscreen de-icing and wiping, maritime transponders and 40 KVA alternators.

Different features were added to the Oryx helicopters over the years to serve various functions. A big log periodic antenna on the starboard side was installed in the first variant of the Oryx.

An electronic warfare version equipped with Grinaker systems Technologies (GST) and GSY 1501 jamming systems is one variant of the helicopter. The EW platform can interrupt communication during air, land and sea battles. Another variant of the Oryx featured dome shaped antennas which were substituted for the main cabin door.

The Oryx mk1 variant is primarily used for firefighting, search and rescue operations in open water. The helicopter is fitted with the Bambi water bucket for firefighting missions and flotation gear kit for performing search and rescue operations.

The flotation gear includes a strut attached between the fuselage and sponson for rendering extra support during the search and rescue mission. The Oryx mk1 played a key role in search and rescue operations during the 2000 Mozambique floods.

Two Oryx mk2 helicopters were built for the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, as part of South African National Antarctic Programme (SANAP). The two helicopters were modified with de-icing equipment for performing operations in the southern ocean and Antarctic. The helicopter was painted in a high visual red and white colour scheme.

Oryx will be updated with the full glass-cockpit in the near future. Current upgrades include threat warning receivers and flare dispensers.


“The Oryx helicopter is an upgraded version of Aerospatiale Puma, a transport and utility helicopter.”

The Oryx works more efficiently in higher temperatures and altitudes than are normally found in South Africa. It can climb at the rate of 915m a minute. The maximum take-off weight is 8,400kg. The maximum speed is 320km/h and the service ceiling is 7,162m. It has a combat range of 303nm (500km) and a ferry range of 1,080nm (2,000km).


The Oryx helicopter is powered by two Turbomeca Makila 1A1 turboshaft engines. Each engine has a 1,877shp (1,400kW) output power capacity. The engine contains five modules for easier maintenance. Its time between overhauls (TBO) is 3,000 hours.


The Oryx is equipped with two door-mounted 7.62mm Mitrailleuse d’Appui General (MAG) light machine guns. It is a general-purpose machine gun manufactured by Fabrique Nationale (FN) and designed by Ernest Vervier in the early 1950s. The gun weighs around 11.79kg with a length of 1,263mm and width of 118.7mm. The gun has a height of 263mm and barrel length of 630mm. It has the capacity to fire up to a range of 800m at 840m a second velocity.

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