The Work Horse of the SAAF-The Oryx Helicopter

The Oryx Medium transport helicopter, is the upgraded version of the puma helicopter which served the South African Airforce for many years and saw the helicopter take part in the Angola border war. The SAAF were the largest operator of the then Aerospatiale SA330 Puma. The Oryx Helicopter named after the Oryx antelope or Gemsbok in Afrikaans. The first flight of the Oryx helicopter was in
1986 .

A 330L Puma, no. 177, was converted to Oryx configuration and used as a prototype and as the results exceeded all expectations the Oryx programme was launched. The sanctions era encouraged the local aviation industry to become self-sufficient in producing helicopter components and, with the knowledge to assemble pre-manufactured helicopters, led to the technical skill for producing complete Puma helicopters, should the need arise. This included complete airframes and dynamic components such as gearboxes, rotor blades and turbines and hot section parts. The engine intakes are fitted with locally produced dust filters and ensure higher efficiency and reliability.

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SAAF Museum Puma
17 Squadron Oryx-a big difference compare to the SA 330 Puma
Two Oryx Helicopters with Bambi Buckets

The Oryx is an upgraded and remanufactured version of the SA 330 Puma equivalent to the Eurocopter AS332 Super Puma now known as Airbus Helicopters, and offers a performance improvement over the original, in addition to cutting the operating costs by 25 to 30%. First examples were fitted with the latest dust filters as were then in use on the SAAF Puma. These units had a moveable auxiliary air intake on the front. A newly designed dust filter was later fitted without the auxiliary air intake. Should one of the engines fail, the remaining powerplant has sufficient power for the Oryx to complete its mission. If an engine fails in flight, the management system automatically advances the power setting on the remaining engine. This ensures the Oryx sustains flight with very little crew input, during such an emergency.

The basic airframe is still that of the original Puma, but the structure was modernized by extensive use of locally produced carbon-composite materials. These materials result in an airframe that is lighter and more rugged, which increases the Oryx’s endurance and maneuverability. The obvious external difference is the new modified tailboom which is slightly longer (50 cm), than the Puma.


The Oryx is a multi-role helicopter. Its main uses in the SAAF are: medium to heavy transport and communications flights, task force rapid deployment operations, fire fighting, and search & rescue missions. It can carry up to 20 fully equipped troops, or 6 wounded on stretchers with 4 attendants, or 3,000 kg freight carried in the cabin, or 4,500 kg freight on an external sling. Tasks for the South African Navy include transport, replenishment at sea, force multiplication, reconnaissance, search & rescue, etc.

Oryx Helicopters
Oryx helicopters at De Brug weapons range February 2018

Most Oryx are equipped with a 50m hydraulic hoist, rated for up to 2 personnel, for use in rescue operations. Additionally a large metal A-frame structure can be fitted in the cargo bay which allows up to 4 personnel to rappel or abseil from the aircraft simultaneously. Oryx operating from coastal squadrons are fitted with emergency flotation gear on the sponsons and nose.

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Oryx during hoisting exercise
Oryx with flotation gear on

The Oryx offers a number of advantages and this was further developed from an early stage in the program. With the Denel Rooivalk of 16 Squadron now in service, this combat helicopter will escort the Oryx in a high threat environment. However, as an interim measure an Oryx with door mounted machine guns did appear. Oryx helicopters are constantly refined and updated. A full glass cockpit is planned for a future update. The latest addition is the fitting of flare dispensers and the update of the Threat Warning Receivers.

Oryx with flare release
Oryx Cockpit view
Photo Credit Marriane Eksteen

There is an electronic warfare (stand-off communications jamming/radar jamming) version of the Oryx that is equipped with the Grinaker Systems Technologies (GST) GSY 1501 jamming system, among others. The first Oryx variant with a large log periodic antenna on the starboard side was regarded as quite an effective EW platform. This platform is capable of disrupting key communications during various stages of modern, air-, land-, and sea battles. In addition it is used as an effective training aid to the SANDF, to test their function as an effective fighting force, despite any EW methods employed against the SA Forces. A further advantage is, EW equipment in use by the SA Forces can be effectively evaluated and calibrated under simulated battlefield scenarios. One variant has its main cabin doors replaced by dome shaped antennas.

Oryx Helicopters have flown many rescue missions over the past couple of years including The 2000 Mozambique flood which was a natural disaster that occurred in February and March 2000.Other rescue missions include offshore tanker vessels to mountain rescues in the Drakensberg.

Oryx at the Rand Easter Show 2018

Operational Flying of the Oryx in the DRC

During the Burundi conflict the SAAFs Oryx’s and Alouette III Helicopters were deployed on peace keeping missions. As times have changed the SAAF are now in the DRC on peace keeping missions!

The Oryx has come under small arms fire since it has been deployed to the DRC. All incidents have been minor and helicopter crews have managed to get the aircraft back to base.

Since the end of October 2013, the South African Air Force has deployed three Rooivalk combat helicopters to the DRC, and these have also been shot at by rebel groups in the restive country. However, the aircraft have not sustained serious damage.

“The Oryx and Rooivalk also supply armed air escorts, fire support, search and rescue and extraction operations. The unit is on standby 24/7 and boasts a reaction time of 45 minutes.”

General characteristics

  • Crew: Three
  • Capacity: 20 fully equipped troops
  • Length: 15.45 m (50 ft 8 in)
  • Height: 5.14 m (16 ft 10 in)
  • Empty weight: 3,600 kg (7,937 lb)
  • Max takeoff weight: 8,000 kg (17,637 lb)
  • Powerplant: 2 × Turbomeca Makila IA1 turboshaft engines, 1,400 kW (1,900 hp) each
  • Main rotor diameter: 15.6 m (51 ft 2 in)
  • Main rotor area: 191 m2 (2,060 sq ft)

Performance

  • Maximum speed: 306 km/h (190 mph; 165 kn)
  • Combat range: 303 km (188 mi; 164 nmi)
  • Ferry range: 2,000 km (1,243 mi; 1,080 nmi)
  • Service ceiling: 7,162 m (23,497 ft)
  • Rate of climb: 15.25 m/s (3,002 ft./min)
Oryx Helicopter
Oryx during night flying sorties

Armament

  • Guns: 2 × door-mounted 7.62 mm machine guns (optional; either the FNMAG or Denel SS-77

The Oryx AS32 operates with the following Squadrons in the South African Airforce:

87 Helicopter Flying School-AFB Bloemspruit

22 Squadron-AFB Ysterplaat

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Credit: Ashley Mills
Credit: Ashley Mills
Credit: Ashley Mills

17 Squadron-AFB Swartkop

Credit: Ashley Mills

15 Squadron-AFB Durban

19 Squadron-AFB Hoedspruit

Test Flight and Development Centre-AFB Overberg

Oryx 1200 of TFDC in 2012-Image by Dean Wingrin

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