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Aircraft Stats:

Powerplant: 2 x 2 000 shp Turbomeca Makila Turboshafts
Speed: 192 kph, 309mph mph
Range: 700km, 435miles
Seats: 2
Length: 16.39m, 53ft 10in
Span: 15.58m 613in
Empty Weight: 5 910kg, 13,029lb
Max T/O Weight: 8 750kg, 19,290lb
Period of Service: 1999 - Current


Status: Current
Manufacturer: Denel
Country of Manufacture: South Africa
Role: Attack/Strike

The Rooivalk was conceived in the 1980s as tankbuster operating in a high-threat, high-intensity environment. While the true cost of the Rooivalk may never be known, some estimates go up to R2 billion since the project started in March 1984.

The type is essentially a gunship version of the Oryx, itself a customised Eurocopter Cougar. Although South Africa may not be keen to admit this for reasons of pride and the French may be equally reluctant - as their involvement up to 1994 was in violation of a UN arms embargo, it is known that Eurocopter and Turbomeca engineers did extensive development work on the design. 

Production of drop tanks restarted in 2014, with Denel Aerostructures manufacturing around 20.

The Rooivalk drop tank is 3.45 metres long, 0.64 metres in diameter, and has a fuel capacity of 550 litres. It weighs 51.5 kg empty and 496 kg full. The centre section is made of metal while the nose and tail section and being made from composite materials. Lightening protection was designed into the tank for all weather operation.


Full glass, stepped tandem cockpits with an environmental control system. The cockpits for the pilot and weapon systems officer (WSO) are equipped with hands-on collective And stick (HOCAS) controls, as well as three LCD displays. The third display is used for threat warning. There is no head-up display, but symbology is displayed on the helmet visor in full colour. The weapon systems officer (WSO) is seated in the front cockpit and the pilot is seated in the cockpit above and behind the WSO. The cockpits, which are fitted with crashworthy seats and are armour-protected.

Avionics :

Fully integrated, dual redundant MIL-STD 1553B-based avionics and weapons system, providing the following management features:

-total mission modes

-target acquisition

-flight control

-health and usage monitoring


-threat detection and control

-flight and fuel

-stores management

-accurate navigation

Electronic warfare (Self-defence suite) :

The Rooivalk's self-defence suite is the fully integrated helicopter electronic warfare self-protection suite (HEWSPS), incorporating radar warning, laser warning and countermeasures dispensing system. The platform uses the IDAS suite from Saab Avitronics. The system is flight-line programmable and in-flight adaptable to match the threat library with the mission's area of operation.

The radar warner features low-effective radiated power (ERP) / pulse Doppler radar detection beyond radar detection range, ultra broadband frequency coverage, high pulse density handling and internal instantaneous frequency measurement.

The laser warner provides broadband laser frequency coverage to detect and display rangefinding, designating and missile guidance laser threats.

The countermeasures dispensing system, which is operated in manual, semi-automatic or fully automatic mode, is charged with infrared (IR) heat suppressors on the engine exhausts and with chaff (radar jamming material) and flare (to distract IR homing missiles) dispensers.

Sight system:

-Nose-mounted stabilised sight (Main sight system)

The main Rooivalk sight is called the 'NightOwl' system and was developed by Société de Fabrication d'Instruments de Mesure (SFIM), later part of SAGEM. Target acquisition and detection are carried out using the nose-mounted stabilised electro- optical sight system. The sight system is equipped with a TV sensor and a forward looking infrared system (giving both day and night capabilities), autotracker, as well as a laser rangefinder and laser designator.

- Dual Helmet-mounted sight displays (HMSD)

A TopOwl helmet-mounted sight display (HMSD) provides the pilot and WSO with a head-up display of information for nap-of-the-earth flight (NOE), and it allows the pilot, if required, to also fire the cannon and rockets. TopOwl incorporates an integrated measurement system for directing an articulated weapon such as the cannon, or air-to-air missile seeker heads. By the use of electromagnetic tracking the pilot can just point his/her head at the target to direct the weapons toward the target. It has an integrated Gen IV image intensifier and FLIR (forward looking infrared) capability and provides transition from day to night use at the push of a button. The TopOwl HMSD was developed by Sextant Avionique (became part of Thales at a later stage).The PNVS (pilot night vision system) was developed by Cumulus (became part of Denel Optronics, and later Cassidian Optronics). Each helmet has two monocular display modules with integrated CRTs that can project both heads-up display symbology and video images directly into the crew member's line of sight, so the crew retain access to their HMDS symbology whether using NVGs or not and the pilot in control similarly gets real-time imagery from the PNVS allowing him or her to fly low-level Nap-of-the-Earth (NOE) missions in pitch darkness.

Navigation and Automatic Flight Control :

The navigation computer is a hybridised system, using both Global Positioning System and Inertial Navigation System inputs.The Rooivalk is equipped with an advanced navigation suite including Doppler radar velocity sensor, Thales Avionics eight-channel global positioning system, heading sensor unit and an air data unit. It also includes radio navigation equipment.

The Automated Flight Control System (AFCS) provides basic stability augmentation. It can also operate in what are termed higher modes, allowing the helicopter to hover automatic- ally, keep flying at certain altitudes automatically, and, in navigation mode, to automatically follow a prescribed route as well as orientating the aircraft to a target as directed by the main sighting system.

Communications :

Reutech Radar Systems ACR500 VHF/UHF radio transceivers and AC500 controller.

The communications suite consists of two VHF/UHF transceivers with FM, AM and digital speech processing, one HF radio with frequency hopping and secure voice and data channels, and an IFF transponder.

Upgrades and modifications from 2007-2011:

In November 2007 the South African government announced they would invest R962m ($137m) in the Rooivalk to bring it up to operational status by 2011. 

The Rooivalk underwent specific upgrades and modifications from 2007, and became fully operational on 1 April 2011. The modifications were needed because the avionics, weapons systems and other areas needed upgrades.

Denel Aviation was responsible for the final modifications to the helicopter to improve its safety and reliability and accuracy of its weapons systems and to complete all outstanding certification flight testing to enable application for a full military type certificate at the Cabinet-agreed deployment baseline. 


“We’ve made 130 modifications to the aircraft to take it from Block 1E to Mark 1, plus nine modifications to the ground support equipment,” reveals Denel Aviation Rooivalk Chief Design Engineer Dr Renier van Rooyen, who has been working on the Rooivalk programme since the middle of 1984 and has held his current post since 2003.

Software, avionics, navigation and weapon accuracy upgrades:

-The upgrade to the helicopter’s mission computer software has improved the display of mission data to the pilot and the weapons system operator (WSO). There are also a host of smaller modifications to the mission systems to add functionality.

-The software for the Automated Flight Control System (AFCS) has also been upgraded. In addition to providing basic stability augmentation, the AFCS can also operate in what are termed higher modes, allowing the helicopter to hover automatic- ally, keep flying at certain altitudes automatically, and, in navigation mode, to automatically follow a prescribed route as well as orientating the aircraft to a target as directed by the main sighting system.

- Radio navigation equipment has also been added and a new communications system fitted.

-The weapons computers enable the operation of the Rooivalk’s weapons systems, currently composed of the movable 20 mm cannon under the forward fuselage and unguided rockets carried in pods under the stub wings. -There were significant changes made to the cannon system to improve its reliability as well as its accuracy.

-There were also changes made to the rocket system, mainly to improve accuracy.

-The helicopter can also carry and fire the Denel Dynamics Mokopa air-to- surface guided missile (originally intended to be an antitank missile but now adapted to be of wider use).

-On the main sighting system there have been hardware and software modifications to improve its reliability. 

-For defence the helicopter is fitted with infrared (IR) heat suppressors on the engine exhausts and with chaff (radar jamming material) and flare (to distract IR homing missiles) dispensers. But to use its chaff and flares with maximum efficiency, the aircraft needs to know if it is being scanned by radar or by laser systems, so it is also fitted with the necessary sensors.

Rooivalk is also fitted with the Saab Grintek Defence Impi Blue Force tracker. 


Rooivalk 674 in 2000. Rooivalk in 2002. Rooivalk in 2002. Rooivalk 680 in 2006. Rooivalk 680 in 2006. Rooivalk weapons.

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