As the gates opened on the first day of the 2010 Africa Aerospace and Defence show at the Ysterplaat Air Force Base, in Cape Town, on September 21, the numerous trade visitors spreading out over the exhibition area were greeted by arguably the largest concentration of military and civilian fixed-and rotor-winged aircraft yet seen at a single venue in Africa.
Added on this were the numerous indoor and outdoor display stands featuring virtually every imaginable item of aeronautical hard- and software from fasteners, nuts and bolts through the whole spectrum to the latest state-of-the-art avionics, ordinance, missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles-you name it and it is a pound to a penny bet that somewhere, perhaps in the many cavernous halls, you would have found it on display or being promoted in some way.
The more than 200 exhibitors came from 30 countries around the globe which also set a new record for the biennial series.
It was not long before the turnstiles began clicking over with the rapid tattoo of machinegun fire as AAD 2010 headed steadily towards being what will no doubt go down in the annals as the biggest aviation exhibition South Africa has ever seen, giving a clear signal that the industry was convinced that, at least as far as it was concerned anyway, the economic crisis appeared to be coming to an end, or at least easing.
Business Jets in Plenty
This show was the occasion for most of the top-of-the-range corporate jet manufacturers to display their best.
At Ysterplaat, they ranged from the "heavy iron" such the VIP-configured Boeing 727 displayed by paramount; a McDonnell Douglas DC-9 showcased by Elite Jet with AirQuarius showing off one of its Fokker F.28 Fellowships, to be followed by the equally luxurious, but slightly smaller, Gulfstream G550, Dassault Falcon 7X and the Embraer Legacy 650(which is making its public debut in Africa at the show).
Both Airbus and Boeing, although not having "in the flesh" examples on display, nevertheless had models and literature promoting their corporate jets based on the A320 and B737 families respectively.
Embraer, at AAD 2008, surprised both the organizers and the crowd by arriving with one of its regional jetliners half-way through the show and, at the time of writing, it was not beyond the bounds of possibility that it might do the same again this year.
The Brazilian manufacturer also had examples of both its phenom 100 and phenom 300 smaller jets on view.
Bombardier fielded a Learjet 45XR and a Canadian 300 with the possibility of a Learjet 60XR also on view later in the week.
Cessna had the new Citation CJ4 making its maiden appearance in South Africa showcased alongside a Citation Sovereign and its entry level Mustag on view, as well as turboprop Caravan.
National Airways Corporation, distributor of Hawker Beech craft Products did not want to be outdone and they showcased the flagship Hawker 4000 corporate jet, along with the new Beech King Air 350i turboprop, both making dramatic entrances having flown from Johannesburg using Sasol's new 100% synthetic jet fuel announced at the show.
The PAC750 turboprop and a chartered Boeing 737 were involved in this fuel venture.
Airbus versus Boeing
As is the norm at most air shows where the two giant airframe manufacturers are present, there were claims and counter-claims about their various aircraft types bandied about at AAD.Both Airbus and Boeing were heavily represented by their respective military and civilian divisions.
On the civilian side, Airbus concentrated more on its new A350XWB and Boeing on its 787 Dreamliner.As far as flying examples of their respective aircraft were concerned, they had to rely on the good offices of the airlines which took part in the Public Day flying displays.
But the Russian pavilion had a trump card up its sleeve as far as the airliner side of the show was concerned .As it did at the recent Farnborough International Show in England, the Irkut Corporation heavily promoted what is dubbed as "Russia's 21st Century Airliner". Irkut is the prime contractor for this aircraft, the MC-21, which is already attracting sizeable orders.
Airbus and the University of Cape Town have agreed to launch a biomimicry-based research project which could prompt a mindset change to how large commercial jetliners are flown on long routes. The project forms part of Airbus' global research and technology program me.
In conjunction with the South African Department of Trade and Industry's National Aerospace Centre of Excellence, Airbus has also engaged the University of Stellenbosch, the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, University of Pretoria, WITS University and Industrial Research, which are involved in several research projects for Airbus.
Public turnout figures for the Friday and Saturday air show days will be made known in November" show wrap-up" feature, but here,too,record attendance figures were possible if the weather played ball.
Another record set by the first day was the concentration of helicopters of all shapes and sizes ranging from the locally manufactured A600 Talon light helicopter from Rotorway,through the EC-120,EC-130 B4 and AS350 B3 helicopters from Euro copter to the Bell 429 which was officially launched in South Africa at gala presentation at NAC headquarters at Lanseria International Airport five days before hand and then flown to AAD to make its first official public appearance.
Another helicopter which made its South African debut at AAD 2010 was the light Ansat Russian-built,multi-purpose helicopter, its unique performance and equipment allowing it to operate around-the –clock in all weather conditions.
This was one of the many different types and sizes of helicopters heavily promoted in the Russian pavilion by the Russian Helicopters Conglomerate.
Added to these helicopters was the wide range of military "whirly birds" fielded by both the South African and United States air forces.
The USAF had on display a wide variety of attack and transport helicopters, all of which were flown to South Africa aboard two C-5 Galaxy heavy-lift transports and a C-17 Globe master 111.These helicopters were the Euro copter UH72A Lakota, the type only recently having joined the air force fleet; Sikorsky CH-53 Sea Knight, a combat –cum-search and rescue version of the HH-60 PAVE Hawk; an MH-60 Night Hawk and a Bell OPH-58 Kiowa.
The SAAF DISPLAYED THREE Agust Westland A109 light utility models; at least one Oryx medium helicopter; three Euro copter BK.117s,four AgustaWestland SuperLynx 300 maritime helicopters and,one of the surprises of the show, two South African-manufactured Rooivalks fresh from having their grounding restriction lifted.
The SAAF helicopter line-up formed part of a 60-plus turnout of the forces aircraft both new and old as part of the SAAFs 90th anniversary celebrations.
Heading the list were the Griped fighters-both single- and two-seat versions; the Hawk Mk.120 lead-in fighter trainers, a large turn-out –about 20-plus – Pilatus Mk.7 Astra turboprop trainers, two C130BZ Hercules transports, anumber of CASA 212 and Cessna Caravan light transports/liaison aircraft and four Douglas C-47TP transports.
Topping off this array, were the unforgettable formation aerobatic displays by Silver Falcons.
This mass display by the SAAF is also considered to be something of a record, at least as far as a peacetime exhibition is concerned.
Meanwhile, Euro copter and ATE have begun local firing tests on their collaborative stand Alone Weapons System (SAWS), which is a low-cost self-defence weapons module designed to be installed on Euro copters light and medium products. A SAWS –equipped AS-550"Fennec" was on exhibition at AAD 2010.
Euro copter also hosted the second Air bone Law Enforcement seminar at AAD 210 for Southern African Law enforcement and crime prevention agencies. This was a fitting curtain-raiser ahead of the delivery of a new AS350BE Squirrel to the Namibian Police which took place at the expo.
Heavy Lift Competition
The C-17 Globe master was joined by a Lockheed Martin C-130J to bolster the United States' bid to capture the South Africa Air Forces requirement for long-range, heavy-lift transport aircraft now that the SA Governments order for the Airbus A400M turboprop airlifter has been withdrawn.
Airbus has not given up hope on the failed contract, and was operating "behind the scenes" at the show, as was Embraer no doubt with its still –in-the-design-stage KC 390.
Another SAAF competition is designated "project Saucepan" which is the code name for the SAAFs requirement for a replacement maritime-cum-light transport aircraft and here Airbus Military will be punting its CASA 295 and the Italians their Alenia C27J Spartan, the latter on show "in the flesh".
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
AAD 2010 was also used extensively to promote unmanned aerial vehicles(UAV) with both SouthAfrican and United States much to the fore.
For example ,Boeing brought its Scan Eagle to the show which was displayed alongside the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator and the AAI RQ-7Shadow.Anumber of South African exhibits in this field were due to have been on show, but no specific announcement had been made by the time of going to press.
On the other hand, a very interesting exhibit was to be found on the African Astronautics stand where the company showcased its Flying Robots FR-102 soft-wing UAV.
The platform supports heavy-lift ,long-range operations in support of such missions as border patrol, law enforcement ,humanitarian,peace-keeping,search and rescue and other tasks.
The platform can support up to 250 kilograms payloads of such items as sensors, food stuff, medical supplies and even individuals. The company also took the opportunity of the show to discuss its surveillance and security portfolios.
Even light aviation was represented at the show with perhaps the announcement of an LSA manufacturing facility planned for Somerset East stealing some limelight in this sector.