The Denel Rooivalk AH-2 is an attack helicopter manufactured by Denel Aviation of South AfricaRooivalk is Afrikaans for “Red Falcon”.  Development of the type began in 1984 by the Atlas Aircraft Corporation (a predecessor of Denel Aviation).

The first Rooivalk was officially handed over in April 2011, and are flown by 16 Squadron, AFB Bloemspruit (Bloemfontein).


The South African Defence Force recognised the need for a dedicated attack helicopter in the South African Border War. The helicopter was to escort helicopter troop transports, conduct strike missions upon anti-aircraft positions, and effectively counter the increasing presence of Soviet weaponry such as the T-55 tank.

South Africa was under an arms embargo at the time which prevented foreign combat helicopters from being imported.

Developing an entirely new helicopter from scratch would have increased the cost and timescale of the project, and it was decided to base the attack helicopter upon an existing design, the Aérospatiale SA 330 Puma.

A key factor for its selection was the parallel development of a localised and improvement model of the Puma in South Africa, known as the Atlas Oryx, which bore significant similarities to the Aérospatiale AS332 Super Puma.

SAAF Atlas Oryx. (Pic- Julian Smith)

First flight

The prototype first flew on the 11 February 1990.

Because of the ambition to produce a world-leading attack helicopter; the Rooivalk suffered from a highly extended development time.

In 1988, the Border War came to a close, which soon led to substantial cuts in the defence budget. The planned attack helicopter acquisition was cut from the original order of 36 to only 12, greatly affecting the economies of scale.

The South African Army were broadly supportive of the Rooivalk program, in part as the presence of South African attack helicopters would reduce the need for large numbers of tanks to be procured and maintained, thus provided funding for the Rooivalk program for a time, helping it survive the tightening budgetary constraints.

By 1998, the year in which the first production Rooivalk was delivered to the SAAF, the lengthy development time meant that the rotorcraft was already suffering from some alleged obsolescence issues; it was an aerodynamically sound aircraft but the avionics, while advanced for the 1980s, were relatively outdated, which harmed the type’s export potential.

Borrowed Technology

Rooivalk relies extensively on French technology, presently owned by Airbus Helicopters; due to the Rooivalk being a rival to the Eurocopter Tiger attack helicopter, the firm allegedly warned potential buyers that the necessary support for the aircraft’s dynamic systems, which they provided, may not be forthcoming. This greatly reduced the export potential and sales of a great combat helicopter.

Other political factors had been attributed as a major hindrance on the export market, such as pressure allegedly exercised by the United States government to persuade foreign customers to select the rival Boeing AH-64 Apache instead.

The industrial impact of the Rooivalk program has enabled South African defence businesses such as Aerosud and Advanced Technologies and Engineering (ATE), to participate in other aerospace programs, such as the Saab JAS 39 GripenBAE Systems HawkAgusta Westland AW109, and Airbus A400M Atlas.

Further development

In 2016, Denel was reportedly proceeding with the Mk 1.1 upgrade program for the existing Rooivalk fleet; improvements included the addition of a missile approach warning system and enhancements to the rotorcraft’s avionics. On 15 September 2016, it was announced that Airbus Helicopters and Denel had signed a memorandum of understanding to co-operate on the SAAF modernisation program; further details on the changes included reliability and survivability improvements, an increased payload, and the replacement of obsolete targeting systems and armaments.

Operational Support

Due to the SAAF’s decades of helicopter experience in the harsh African environment, the Rooivalk has been designed to operate for prolonged periods without sophisticated support. All that is needed to keep the Rooivalk flying is a medium transport helicopter equipped with a basic spares supply plus four ground crew.


The Rooivalk is fitted with a nose-mounted 20 mm cannon and can also carry air-to-air missiles, anti-armour missiles and unguided rockets. The Rooivalk has a fire control system for target acquisition and tracking as well as an advanced navigation system using Doppler radar and GPS. Also incorporated is an electronic countermeasures suite coupled with chaff and flare dispensers. Notable features include a tandem cockpit, starboard tail rotor with a port tailplane, a fixed tricycle wheeled undercarriage as well as wire cutters above and below the cockpit and on the undercarriage. The Rooivalk is capable of doing a loop and thus momentarily “flying upside down”.

(Pic- Julian Smith)

Operational Service

By April 2005, only six aircraft were available for operational test and evaluation with the other six in need of software upgrades. The Chief of the South African Air Force, Lt. Gen. Carlo Gagiano, hoped that the helicopters would be ready around June 2007.

One airframe was damaged beyond repair on 3 August 2005 after an “uncontrolled landing”.

On 17 May 2007, Denel announced a decision to cease further development and funding for the Rooivalk as an export product following its failure to win the Turkish attack helicopter tenderagainst the Agusta A129 Mangusta.

During November 2007, Parliament announced that the SAAF was to invest R962 million (about US$137 million in 2007 exchange rates) in the helicopter over three years to 2010/2011, in order to bring it up to full operational status. The helicopter was expected to be deployed on peace-keeping duties as soon as initial operating capability is achieved.

On 1 April 2011, the SAAF received the first five of eleven (one was written off after an accident) Block 1F upgraded Rooivalk. The upgrade involves improved targeting systems and other avionics which enable the helicopter to use guided missiles for the first time.

The Mokopa ATGM was qualified as part of the upgrade process. Gearbox components were improved and cooling problems with the F2 20 mm cannon were also addressed. 

The ninth and tenth Rooivalk attack helicopters were delivered in September 2012 following their upgrade to the Block 1F initial operating standard. The eleventh and final Rooivalk was delivered on 13 March 2013.


Three Rooivalk attack helicopters have been deployed with the United Nations Force Intervention Brigade to support the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2013.


Crew: 2 (pilot & weapon systems officer)

Fuel capacity: 1,854 l (490 US gal; 408 imp gal)

Powerplant: 2 × Turbomeca Makila 1K2 turboshaft engines, 1,420 kW (1,900 hp) each


Cruise speed: 278 km/h (173 mph, 150 kn) at sea level (max cruise)

Never exceed speed: 309 km/h (192 mph, 167 kn)

Range: 740 km (460 mi, 400 nmi) at sea level (max cruise)

Ferry range: 720 km (450 mi, 390 nmi) at 1,525 m (5,003 ft) (max external fuel)

Service ceiling: 6,100 m (20,000 ft)


1 × F2 20 mm cannon, 700 rounds

8 or 16 × Mokopa ZT-6 long-range anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM),

4 × MBDA Mistral air-to-air missiles,

38 or 76 × 70 mm rockets folding fin aerial rockets (FFAR) or Wrap-Around (WA) (FZ90 70mm WA)

(Thanks to Wikipedia)