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Medium utility helicopter

Oryx helicopter

The Oryx is a reverse-engineered and upgraded version of the French Puma

Country of origin South Africa
Entered service 1987
Crew 3 men
Dimensions and weight
Length 15.45 m
Main rotor diameter 15.58 m
Height 5.14 m
Weight (empty) 3.6 t
Weight (maximum take off) 8 t
Engines and performance
Engines 2 x Turbomeca Makila 1A1 turboshafts
Engine power 2 x 1 877 shp
Maximum speed 306 km/h
Cruising speed ~ 260 km/h
Service ceiling 7.16 km
Range (combat) 303 km
Ferry range 2 000 km
Endurance ?
Passengers 20
Payload capacity 3 t internally, or 4.5 t externally
Machine guns 2 x 7.62-mm


   The Oryx is an utility helicopter, developed in South Africa. It is a reverse-engineered and upgraded version of the French Aerospatiale Puma. The Oryx was produced by Atlas Aircraft corporation (now Denel). This helicopter is named after the Oryx antelope. It made its first flight in 1986 and was officially adopted in 1987. Production began in 1986 and ceased in 1991. It replaced in South African service the older Puma and Super Frelon helicopters. Existance of the Oryx was kept in high secrecy. It was first publicly revealed only in 1991. Currently around 35 of these helicopter are in service with the South African Air Force.

   The South African Air Force was the largest operator of the Aerospatiale Puma, outside France. Sanctions imposed on the South Africa encouraged local aviation industry to become self-sufficient. A secret and complex operation was launched to acquire components of this helicopters from abroad. This secret operation involved a number of companies.

   The Oryx is based on the Puma, but incorporates elements of the Super Puma upgrade, including its engines. These upgraded elements were secretly acquired from Portugal during a five-year period. The the upgrade package was supplied in kit form by Aerospatiale to Portugal in order to upgrade the Portuguese helicopters. The remainder were delivered to South Africa via a front company of Zaire.

   Airframes were obtained from Romanian IAR company, which produced the Puma helicopters under license. In 1986 the IAR supplied 50 airframes to South Africa without tailbooms. Structure of the airframe was locally modernized using carbon-composite materials. As a result the airframe became lighter and more rugged. It increased the Oryx's performance. A new tailboom was fitted, which is slightly longer than that of the Puma.

   The first prototype of the Oryx exceeded all expectations. The South African helicopter had improved performance, comparing with original Puma. It was broadly equivalent to that of the Super Puma.

   The Oryx is powered by two Turbomeca Makila 1A1 turboshaft engines, developing 1 877 shp each. If one engine fails in flight, the remaining one has sufficient power to return to base. In case of such emergency the management system automatically advances the power setting on the remaining engine.

   The South African Air Force use these helicopters for rapid deployment of troops. The Oryx can carry 20 fully-equipped troops. Alternatively it can carry 6 stretchers with 4 medical attendants, or various cargo. The Oryx can carry up to 3 000 kg of cargo internally, or up to 4 500 kg externally. This helicopter is also used for search and rescue operations. For this role the Oryx is fitted with a 50 m hoist, which can list up to 2 men.

   This helicopter is also used by the coastline squadrons and fullfill the tasks of the South African Navy, such as troop and cargo transport, replenishment at sea, reconnaissance and search and rescue. These helicopters are fitted with emergency floatation gear. All Oryx helicopters can be used for other roles, such as firefighting.

   The Oryx can be armed with 2 door-mounted machine guns. These are either FN MAG or Denel SS-77. However this helicopter has no provision for other weapons, such as pods with unguided rockets.

   The Oryx is fitted with sponson fuel tanks, giving an extended range. The Aerospatiale Puma lacked this feature.

   Operational Oryx helicopters were constantly improved. At some point helicopters were fitted with flare dispensers. In 2006 the South African Air Force initiated a mid life upgrade for the Oryx helicopters in order to extend their service life to the 2015-2020 time frame.




   Electronic warfare version. It is fitted with stand-off communications and radar jamming systems. It is capable of disrupting enemy communications and proved to be quite effective electronic warfare platform. This helicopter has a large antenna.

   Oryx Mk.2 is a version specially built as a part of South Africa's National Antarctic Programme.  Two helicopters were modified to this standard between 1996 and 1997. These helicopters were intended to operate in the the Antarctic and were painted in red and white color scheme. A highly effective de-icing equipment was fitted. Also there were some other differences. The Oryx Mk.2 helicopters were operated and flown by the South African Air Froce. In 2004 one of them was written off after a crash landing.

   AH-2 Rooivalk is an attack helicopter. Although it looks like an entirely new machine, the Rooivalk is actually based on the Oryx. It uses the same engines (albeit in slightly uprated form) and main rotor. This gunship made its first flight in 1990 and was adopted in 1999.


Oryx helicopter

Oryx helicopter

Oryx helicopter

Oryx helicopter

Oryx helicopter

Oryx helicopter

Oryx helicopter

Oryx helicopter

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