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Denel AH-2 Rooivalk (Kestrel)

Dedicated Two-Seat Attack Helicopter


The Denel AH-2 Rooivalk was developed using research gained from the XH-1 Alpha concept demonstrator.

Detailing the development and operational history of the Denel AH-2 Rooivalk (Kestrel) Dedicated Two-Seat Attack Helicopter.  Entry last updated on 1/15/2018. Authored by Staff Writer. Content ©
The Denel (then Atlas) AH-2 Rooivalk (translating to "Kestrel") was an ambitious and indigenous undertaking by the nation of South Africa. At the time of its development, the Rooivalk was heralded as one of the top performing and capable helicopters in existence and destined to become the best attack helicopters ever made. Unfortunately, cost overruns, limited production and no export orders have seen the system become a bloated and outdated design that is now in the hands of politics in deciding the fate of the machine.

The Rooivalk was born from a need of the South African Air Force to field a capable attack helicopter. Atlas (before becoming known as Denel) produced the XH-1 Alpha design to which served the company well in terms of developmental research. The XH-1 was based highly on the French-made Aerospatiale Alouette III system, though hardly a dedicated attack helicopter platform and still utilizing 1960's technology. XH-1 would flew in early 1986 followed by two converted XTP-1 Beta gunships in the form of Aerospatiale SA 330 Pumas (production versions of the Rooivalk would indeed feature the SA 330's transmission and rotor system), designed from the outset as test beds. Utilizing information gained form both test types, designs were being drawn up for the Rooivalk as early as 1984 with the initial flyable XH-2 Rooivalk getting airborne by early 1990. From the XH-2, two more developmental models appeared in XDM and EDM forms (see variants description down the page).

Production Rooivalks were being received by early 1999 with total deliveries being limited to just twelve examples. Naval versions were also under consideration, though many a setback has contributed to the projects delay and foreseeable demise. To any end, the Rooivalk would have been a major player on the foreign market would circumstances had been different at home and abroad. In any case, development of the Rooivalk - it being an indigenous undertaking - could yield some profitability for future home-bread attack helicopter designs by the African nation.

Design of the "production" Rooivalk produced something in the vein of the Italian Mangusta, with the pilot and gunner seated in a tandem seat cockpit. Short wing stubs offered up four hardpoints to which the Rooivalk could mount rocket pods or anti-tank missiles of the ZT6 Mokopa variety. Additionally, the wing stubs wingtips could support the French-made Mistral air-to-air missile system for self-defense. Standard armament included the chin-mounted Armscor F2 20mm cannon. Up to sixteen ZT6 anti-tank missiles could be carried, similar to the AH-64 Apache's use of the Hellfire. Twin powerful Turbomeca Makila 1K2 turboshaft engines powered a large four-blade main rotor and a five-blade tail rotor system.

The delays and cost overruns have extensively hampered further production and any international interest in the form of export orders. The system remains outdated as it still retains computer technology that is some twenty years old. Additionally, the Denel company was suffering from financial unrest, scaring off any potential international sales who had a fear of purchasing the unit only to see its underlying support disappear in the future. Denel ties to the Eurocopter firm might save the Rooivalk project in that respect, though that kind of partnership remains to be seen seeing it that Denel was looking to sell Rooivalks on the export market knowing it was also selling French-made components in the process.

As of this writing, only 12 examples have been delivered with few in complete operational form. There are talks of either canceling the entire program in full and retiring the existing units or taking on another series of developmental versions and bringing out a new and up-to-date Rooivalk attack helicopter. The status of the future of the Rooivalk program is under debate.

The Rooivalk Mk 1.1 is a new standard in play that is set to modernize the existing AH-2 fleet. This will install a missile warning system as well as updated avionics. The work will take place from April 2017 on.

Eleven Rooivalk combat helicopters currently (2018) make up the South African Air Force fleet, these being assigned to 16 Squadron.

2013 marked the first combat operations for the Rooivalk series when three units were committed to the United Nations Force Intervention Brigade in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

September 2016 - The Rooivalk's good showing against insurgents in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during its 2013 peacekeeping mission has given rise to talks concerning an export variant of the AH-2 - the Rooivalk Mk II.


YEAR: 2011
STATUS: Active, Limited Service
MANUFACTURER(S): Denel (Atlas) - South Africa
LENGTH: 61.45 ft (18.73 m)
WIDTH: 51.12 ft (15.58 m)
HEIGHT: 17.03 ft (5.19 m)
EMPTY WEIGHT: 12,632 lb (5,730 kg)
MTOW: 19,290 lb (8,750 kg)
POWER: 2 x Turbomeca Makila 1K2 turboshaft engines developing 1,845 horsepower each and driving a four-blade main rotor and a five-blade tail rotor.
SPEED: 173 mph (278 kph; 150 kts)
CEILING: 20,000 feet (6,096 m; 3.79 miles)
RANGE: 438 miles (705 km; 381 nm)
RATE-OF-CLIMB: 2,620 ft/min (799 m/min)
OPERATORS: South Africa

1 x 20mm Armscor F2 cannon in chin-mounted turret.

Mission-specific ordnance can include any of the following:

16 x ZT6 Mokopa anti-tank missiles
70mm rocket launching pods
Mistral infrared homing air-to-air missiles (on wingtip mounts)
Graphical image of an aircrat automatic cannon
Graphical image of an air-to-air missile weapon
Graphical image of a short-range air-to-air missile
Graphical image of an aircraft anti-tank guided missile
Variants / Models

• XH-1 - Alpha concept demonstrator based on the French-built Alouette III design.
• XTP-1 Beta - French-built Puma helicopters modified as gunships for evaluation and testing.
• XH-2 "Rooivalk" - Initial Prototype Designation
• XDM (eXperimental Development Model) - A redesignation of the XH-2 prototype; avionics and weapons development platform.
• EDM (Engineering Developmental Model) - Production Evaluation Model.
• CSH-2 - Initial Production Model Designation
• AH-2 - Redesignation of the CSH-2 Production Model occurring in 1998.
• AH-2 Mk I - Original Production Models
• AH-2 Mk 1.1 - Modernized standard; work beginning in April 2017.
• AH-2 Mk 2 - Proposed export variant of Mk 1.1

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
Hi: 200mph
Lo: 100mph
This entry's maximum listed speed (173mph).

Graph average of 150 miles-per-hour.
City-to-City Ranges
Graph showcases the Denel AH-2 Rooivalk (Kestrel)'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 (12)
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
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.

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