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Denel (Atlas) Oryx

Medium-Lift Utility Transport Helicopter

Denel (Atlas) Oryx

Medium-Lift Utility Transport Helicopter


The South African Atlas-Denel Oryx multirole helicopter became a local development of the original French Aerospatiale Puma series.
National Flag Graphic
ORIGIN: South Africa
YEAR: 1987
STATUS: Active, In-Service
MANUFACTURER(S): Atlas Aircraft Corporation / Denel Aviation - South Africa
OPERATORS: South Africa

Unless otherwise noted the presented statistics below pertain to the Denel Oryx model. Common measurements, and their respective conversions, are shown when possible.
LENGTH: 50.69 feet (15.45 meters)
WIDTH: 51.18 feet (15.6 meters)
HEIGHT: 16.90 feet (5.15 meters)
WEIGHT (EMPTY): 7,937 pounds (3,600 kilograms)
WEIGHT (MTOW): 17,637 pounds (8,000 kilograms)
ENGINE: 2 x Turbomeca Makila IA1 turboshaft engines developing 1,900 horsepower each while driving four-bladed main rotor and five-bladed tail rotor.
SPEED (MAX): 190 miles-per-hour (305 kilometers-per-hour; 165 knots)
RANGE: 1,243 miles (2,000 kilometers; 1,080 nautical miles)
CEILING: 23,507 feet (7,165 meters; 4.45 miles)
RATE-OF-CLIMB: 3,000 feet-per-minute (914 meters-per-minute)


2 x 7.62mm GPMGs (General Purpose Machine Guns) can be fitted, one to either door.

Series Model Variants
• Oryx - Base Series Name
• Oryz MLU - Mid-Life Upgrade; stock of 35 airframes set aside for upgraded navigation and communication suites.
• Oryx EWA - Electronic Warfare Aircraft model outfitted with appropriate missions equipment.
• Oryx Mk.I - Primary SAAF multirole service model
• Oryx Mk.II - Dept. of Environmental Affairs and Tourism model; special heavy-duty de-icing equipment featured; two examples completed (one since lost to a crash).


Detailing the development and operational history of the Denel (Atlas) Oryx Medium-Lift Utility Transport Helicopter.  Entry last updated on 7/10/2018. Authored by Staff Writer. Content ©
The Denel (formally Atlas) Oryx is a medium-class transport helicopter serving the South African Air Force (SAAF). It is a local offshoot of the popular French-made Aerospatiale "Puma" series originally introduced in 1968. The Oryx came about through the work developed for the what would become the Denel "Rooivalk" dedicated attack helicopter (detailed elsewhere on this site) and maintains an active presence in the SAAF inventory. The SAAF had experience with the Puma in the pre-1977 embargo years and became the largest non-French operator before the end.

In attempting its first indigenous attack helicopter design (the Denel "Rooivalk"), the Alpha XH-1 demonstrator was devised by Atlas Aircraft engineers. From this work came the more advanced XTP-1 - which was essentially a modified Aerospatiale SA330 "Puma" helicopter and two prototypes were completed. These prototypes served the Rooivalk program well but also showcased merits for an improved form of the Puma transport. Additional attention was therefore paid to this initiative and a dedicated prototype followed, giving rise to the Atlas "Oryx" transport platform.

Due to the embargo, the new helicopter was forced to rely on local South African industry as well as its experience in managing, repairing and operating French Pumas. The Oryx, on the whole, remained largely faithful to the French design but offered enough benefits to push the program to completion. Performance was increased and weight lightened while operating commitments were reduced by a quarter from the original. Structurally, the tail stem was lengthened some and new dust covers fitted to the engine intakes for better service in dry environments. Crew survivability was also improved. The result was a new helicopter that mimicked the form and function of the French original and improved it in some key areas. It also carried the added benefit of being a product custom-tailored to South African Air Force needs as well as one of local modification.

After having completing the requisite testing, evaluation and certification phases, the Oryx entered production in 1986 and airframes were built into 1991. Service introduction was in 1987 though public acknowledgement of the transport helicopter was not witnessed until 1991. As many as 46 were eventually taken into service and upgraded Puma-related components were eventually received through indirect means by way of Zaire and Romania as South Africa still lay under embargo. A mid-life upgrade occurred for 35 of the stock beginning in 2006 with the intent to keep these birds aloft into the 2020s.

Since its introduction, the Oryx has served with Squadron Nos. 15, 17, 19 and 22 while also being used by the 87 Helicopter Flying School. In service, the platform has responded well in various combat and non-combat roles, the latter including Search & Rescue (SAR) initiatives and fire-fighting. In military service, it is typically used in the troop and field supply transport role where it can seat up to 20 infantry and 3,000 kilogram loads respectively. An optional sling capability adds another 4,500 kg of external load to be carried. The cabin also supports up to six MEDEVAC litters with medical team in lieu of traditional infantry seating. If operating in contested areas, door guns are fitted, these being typically 7.62mm GPMG types for suppression fire.

The primary in-service model is the Oryx Mk.I of which an Electronic Warfare Aircraft (EWA) variant has also been developed. The Oryx Mk.II is a specialized transport model for the Department for Environmental Affairs and Tourism. These are noted for their red-and-white color schemes which differ considerably from the camouflage schemes used by the SAAF Mk.I forms.

In 1992, the Atlas Aircraft Corporation / Atlas Aviation brand label was absorbed into Denel Aviation. The embargo on South Africa ended in 1994 following democratic elections (U.N. Resolution 919).


Our Data Modules allow for quick visual reference when comparing a single entry against contemporary designs. Areas covered include general ratings, speed assessments, and relative ranges based on distances between major cities.

Image of collection of graph types

Relative Maximum Speed Rating
Hi: 200mph
Lo: 100mph
    This entry's maximum listed speed (190mph).

    Graph average of 150 miles-per-hour.
City-to-City Ranges
Graph showcases the Denel Oryx's operational range (on internal fuel) when compared to distances between major cities.
Aviation Era
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Useful in showcasing the era cross-over of particular aircraft/aerospace designs.
Unit Production Comparison
Comm. Market HI*: 44,000 units
Military Market HI**: 36,183 units

  * Commercial Market High belongs to Cessna 172.

  ** Military Market High belongs to Ilyushin Il-2.

Altitude Visualization
Small airplane graphic
Supported Roles
Ground Attack
Aerial Tanker
A2A=Air-to-Air; UAV=Unmanned; CAS=Close Support; ASW=Anti-Submarine; AEW=Airborne Early Warning; MEDEVAC=Medical Evac; EW=Electronic Warfare; SAR=Search-Rescue
Supported Arsenal
Graphical image of an aircraft medium machine gun
Commitments / Honors
Military lapel ribbon for Operation Allied Force
Military lapel ribbon for the Arab-Israeli War
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Britain
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Midway
Military lapel ribbon for the Berlin Airlift
Military lapel ribbon for the Chaco War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cold War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cuban Missile Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for pioneering aircraft
Military lapel ribbon for the Falklands War
Military lapel ribbon for the French-Indochina War
Military lapel ribbon for the Golden Age of Flight
Military lapel ribbon for the 1991 Gulf War
Military lapel ribbon for the Indo-Pak Wars
Military lapel ribbon for the Iran-Iraq War
Military lapel ribbon for the Korean War
Military lapel ribbon for the 1982 Lebanon War
Military lapel ribbon for the Malayan Emergency
Military lapel ribbon representing modern aircraft
Military lapel ribbon for the attack on Pearl Harbor
Military lapel ribbon for the Six Day War
Military lapel ribbon for the Soviet-Afghan War
Military lapel ribbon for the Spanish Civil War
Military lapel ribbon for the Suez Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for the Vietnam War
Military lapel ribbon for Warsaw Pact of the Cold War-era
Military lapel ribbon for the WASP (WW2)
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 1
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 2
Military lapel ribbon for the Yom Kippur War
Military lapel ribbon for experimental x-plane aircraft
* Ribbons not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective campaigns/operations.