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.
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Atlas Aircraft Corporation / Denel Aviation - South Africa Manufacturer(s)
2 x 7.62mm GPMGs (General Purpose Machine Guns) can be fitted, one to either door.
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).
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