Pretoria: The first military aircraft designed and built by African companies is ready to take to the sky and orders are there by those intending to purchase the lightweight plane.
Ivor Ichikowitz, head of Johannesburg-based arms maker Paramount Group, called the plane a breakthrough, but experts said its simple design was similar to planes produced by other countries, and said it will have tough competition.
Ichikowitz said the AHRLAC plane can be used for peacekeeping missions and reconnaissance and is armed to defend itself.
He said he's received an order from a country he would not name for 50 of the planes, each costing about $10 million. Paramount Group is one of Africa's largest military hardware producers and has markets in West Africa and the Middle East.
Ichikowitz, known for his flamboyance, revealed a life-size model of the aircraft at a South African arms factory. Beside the model of the plane stood two female models wearing flight suits and holding pilot helmets. The weapons were not mounted on the model.
Ichikowitz said everything on the plane is South African-made except for the engine. Local aircraft engineering company Aerosud partnered Paramount Group in the development of AHRLAC. The engine is made by US-based jet engine maker Pratt & Whitney.
Production of the two-pilot aircraft will begin in late 2012.
He said their main target is the international market.
"Defence companies in this country rely on the (South African Air Force) and are battling," he said. "Even though the aircraft is made in Africa, it is not solely for the African market."