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Oryx M2
Role Utility helicopter
Manufacturer Atlas Aircraft Corporation
Status Active service
Primary user South African Air Force
Developed from Aérospatiale Puma
Variants Denel AH-2 Rooivalk

The Atlas Oryx (named after the Oryx antelope) is a medium-sized utility helicopter manufactured by the Atlas Aircraft Corporation (now Denel Aerospace Systems) of South Africa.


Design and development

Outside France, the SAAF was the largest user of Aerospatiale SA 330 Puma and South Africa was the first export customer. Operations with the SAAF made the Puma a legend, from the snow capped mountains of the Drakensberg, the vast seas around South Africa, to the Bush War.

The Oryx can trace its origins back to the Bush War. Despite the efforts of the gunship Alouette, the need for a dedicated gunship was recognized. Atlas Aircraft Corporation (now DENEL Aviation), produced an experimental attack helicopter, the Alpha XH-1. This helicopter was used for feasibility studies and could not serve any practical purpose - this led to the more powerful XTP-1 in April, 1987. Two XTP-1s were converted, and based on a Puma J airframe. Various weapons and other systems were tested on XTP-1 and paved the way for Project: Rooivalk. However, the dynamic flight components of the XTP-1, made Atlas realise what advantages, a so called upgraded Puma could have.

A 330L Puma, no. 177, was converted to Oryx configuration and used as a prototype, 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 of producing complete Puma helicopters, should the need arise. This included complete airframes and dynamic components, such as gearboxes, rotor blades and turbine, hot section parts. Such experience resulted in the locally manufactured Topaz engine - the main component of the Oryx program. Leading aviation publications regard the Topaz to be similar in performance to the Makila, as fitted the AS332 Super Puma and AS532 Cougar. The engine intakes are fitted with locally produced dust filters and ensure higher efficiency and reliability.

It is an upgraded and remanufactured version of the Aérospatiale Puma, equivalent to the Eurocopter Super Puma, 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 fail in flight, the management system automatically advance the power setting on the remaining engine. This ensures the Oryx sustain 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 a airframe that is far lighter and more rugged, which increase the Oryx's endurance and manoeuvrability. The obvious external difference is the new modified tailboom which is slightly longer (50 cm), than the Puma.

By mid 1991, the SAAF acknowledged that the Oryx was in service, as a replacement for the Puma and Super Frelon. It was shown for the first time to the public at an open day at Potchefstroom in August '91. The Oryx is currently in service with several squadrons of the South African Air Force, with about 35 being available.

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 SA Navy include transport, replenishment at sea, force multiplication, reconnaissance, search & rescue, etc.

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 as illustrated in the photograph accompanying this article.


The Oryx is equipped with two door-mounted 7.62mm machine guns. Each gun weighs about 11.79kg with a length of 1,263mm and width of 118.7mm. Each can fire up to a range between 800 meters to 840 meters.


Foreign involvment

In early April 1986 Armscor set about a clandestine project to acquire the Makila turboshaft engines which had already been successfully flown on the SA 330R and the development of the Super Puma. In a complex operation believed to involve Beverley Securities Incorporated, Aerospatiale, Portuguese Air Force, Indep and Ogma; Armscor agreed to pay for the upgrade of the Portuguese Air Force Puma’s which entailed fitting Makila 1A turboshafts to the standard Puma airframe. This upgrade package was supplied in “kit” form by Aerospatiale. This deal was worth about $3 billion and Aerospatiale continued delivering these “kits” to Portugal where, apart from those used by the Portuguese upgrade the rest were delivered to South Africa via a front company in Zaire over a five year period.

IAR supplied 50 Puma airframes without tailbooms in 1986, and this helped South Africa to develop the Oryx. South Africa chose the IAR airframe over existing airframes due to the Romanians use of carbon-composite materials which are lighter, stronger and also include sponson fuel tanks which give an extended range.

Mid Life Upgrade

In 2006, the SAAF initiated a mid life upgrade for 35 Oryx helicopters to extend their service life to the 2015 - 2020 timeframe. Due to budgetary restrictions, the upgrade will be limited to airframe life extensions, with a limited communications and navigation upgrade. It was initially planned to do a full glass cockpit upgrade.


In its basic platform the design of the Oryx offers a number of advantages and this was further developed from an early stage in the program. With Rooivalk 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 fitment of flare dispensers and the update of the Threat Warning Receivers.

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. Such a highly mobile EW platform offers a number of distinct advantages. 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 a 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.

The Oryx Mk. 2 contains such a number of differences, that a different model number is used, to distinguish the type. Although, operated and flown by 22 Sqdn of the SAAF, these helicopters were specifically build for use by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, as part of SANAP (South African National Antarctic Program). Two Oryx helicopters have been modified for operations in the Southern Ocean and the Antarctic, for which they have been painted in the red and white colour scheme as illustrated in the photograph accompanying this article. Highly effective, de-icing equipment, of up rated specification, was the central requirement of the Mk. 2 program. The project received the go-ahead on 15 March 1996, with Lt Col K. Viljoen as project leader. The project was completed three weeks ahead of schedule and the two helicopters delivered to 22 Sqdn, during October 1997. One of the Mk. 2 Oryx helicopters was written off subsequent to a crash landing in July 2004.


 South Africa


General characteristics

  • Crew: Three
  • Capacity: 20 fully-equipped troops
  • Length: 15.45 m (50 ft 8 in)
  • Rotor diameter: 15.6 m (51 ft 2 in)
  • Height: 5.14 m (16 ft 10 in)
  • Empty weight: 3,600 kg (7,920 lb)
  • Loaded weight: 6,000 kg (13,200 lb)
  • Max takeoff weight: 8,000 kg (17,600 lb)
  • Powerplant:Turbomeca Makila IA1 turboshaft engines, 1,400 kW (1,877 shp) each


  • Maximum speed: 306 km/h (188 mph, 165 kts)
  • Service ceiling: 7,162 m (23,500 ft)
  • Rate of climb: 915 m/min (3,000 ft/m)
  • Combat range (internal fuel): 303 nm (561 km, 346 mi)
  • Ferry range (external fuel): 1,080 nm (2,000 km, 1,234 mi)


  • 2 × door-mounted 7.62 mm machine guns (optional)


See also

Related development

Related lists


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