KENTRON INDUSTRIES CHAMPION REMOTELY PILOTED VEHICLE
Remotely Piloted Vehicle (RPV) experiments in South Africa (later known as Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAV)’s) were initiated by Project “Gharra” that was approved on 19 February 1976. The intention was to provide the South African Army with a battlefield surveillance system. Tests began in 1977 with a fibre-glass covered welded tubular metal framework powered by a McCullagh 101 two stroke engine at the CSIR facility in Magaliesburg.
Following a series of improvements and further test flights, the Champion was developed by Kentron Industries and evaluated by the South African Air Force. The pre-production model plus three others that were numbered 101 to 103 were supplied to Rhodesia. Further trials were carried out with five Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) RPV-2B Scouts acquired from Israel for the RC-2 Medium Range Battlefield Surveillance System under Project “Cobalt” and were first used operationally in Angola for the first time during OPS PROTEA in August 1981 followed by operations in Mocambique (no. 004 being shot down over Maputo on 30 May) during 1983 and again in Southern Angola during OPERATION ASKARI in December 1983/January 1984.
On 18 October 1985, RPV no. 2712 was written off during trails at the St. Lucia Test Range with the locally manufactured version, RPV 303. 10 Squadron was reformed at Air Force Base Potchefstroom in January 1986 and equipped with a single Champion RPV (ex-Rhodesian 101) and used for training external and internal pilots. Champion no. 019 was built and evaluated by the SAAF during1978 and along with no. 018, and issued to 10 Squadron where they were used during mid 1987 to train SAAF external pilots. The crew for the RPV consisted of the following:
- COMMANDER: Mission planning, coordination and control and communication and tracking of the RPV during mission.
- INTERNAL PILOT: Flight control during entire mission except for take-off and landing.
- EXTERNAL PILOT: Flight control during take-off and landing only.
- OBSERVER: Payload control, target acquisition, surveillance and data recording.
During June 1987, the first of thirteen RPV-1C’s were delivered including twelve locally improved RC-2/4 “Leghorn”s and during August 1987, the first of seven Seeker 2B’s were delivered. The RC-2 RPV’s were deployed in Angola in support of Operations Modular and Hooper during 1987 and three were shot down by Soviet SAM-8 Gecko surface-to-air missiles.
During 1990, trials were carried out with the improved Seeker 2C and 2D (in May) but 10 Squadron was disbanded in March 1991. Kentron then assumed responsibility of the RPV fleet on behalf of the SAAF until 2001 when the entire operation and maintenance of the fleet was handed over completely to Denel Aerospace Systems (formerly Kentron) who continued with further developments.
Champion Remotely Piloted Vehicle (RPV) Serial 019 was presented to the SAAF Museum by Kentron in March 1996.