BULAWAYO, ZIMBABWE — The Nigeria Air Force Institute of Technology (NAF-IT) says it has designed and developed the country’s first indigenous light trainer aircraft, intended to replace the service’s fleet of aircraft imported from the 1970s and 1980s, now grounded by a lack of spare parts.
But funding to continue and finalize development remains an issue and alternate means of supporting the initiative outside the Air Force are being explored.
Although no design and performance details were provided, NAF-IT Commandant Air Vice Marshal Toni Adokwu said the aircraft, named Farawa 2, is designed to suit local weather and operating conditions as well as address other problems associated with the force’s Air Beetle-18 (AB-18) primary trainer aircraft.
The Air Beetle is a Nigerian-made plane unveiled by the Air Force Institute in 1989, made out of imported spare parts and assembled in Nigeria.
“Currently, the NAF is faced with the problem of the highly unserviceable primary trainer Air Beetle aircraft, which is equally a light trainer aircraft. Some of the problems associated with the AB-18 aircraft include high engine temperature and uncomfortable seats for instructors and student pilots,” Adokwu said.
“We believe the design and construction of this new trainer aircraft will address some of the challenges, and ultimately address the issue of aircraft unserviceability.”
However, he said the aircraft development program is still at an early stage and will require huge financial resources, which the Air Force has no means to provide, so a different approach is needed.
“The institute believes that with an innovative approach to technology, Nigeria can tackle some of the security challenges it is facing. The research and development projects being undertaken by [NAF-IT] come with huge financial implications and the resource requirements cannot be borne by the Air Force.
“The project requires immediate infrastructural and human capacity development in order to achieve its goals. A bill for the establishment of NAF-IT as an autonomous institution of higher learning is already before the National Assembly. If passed, it will help us to develop more technologies that will further help in the fight against insurgency in the country,” Adokwu said.
Under the proposed legislation, NAF-IT would remain an Air Force agency but not be funded by the Air Force. Instead, it would be funded like any government college and have the opportunity to seek other means of support, such as joint venture partnerships, for its programs.
The Farawa 2, which has not yet undergone any test flights, was first displayed as a concept in January of last year. It is primarily an enlarged but economized copy of the Air Force’s primary Air Beetle trainer aircraft.
Unmanned Ground Vehicle
Meanhile, Adokwu said the institute’s plan to complete development of an unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) that can detect and detonate high-caliber improvised explosive devices (IEDs) has been hampered by inadequate government funding.
He said once operational, the UGV will reduce casualties caused by explosives and IEDs among security personnel battling the Boko Haram insurgency and improve the safety of post-conflict bomb disposal experts.
“When the project is completed, the UGV will go a long way in countering activities of terrorist groups, as detonation of bombs will not require the physical presence of a human being at the scene,” Adokwu said.
Last December, the Air Force college unveiled the first indigenously built UAV, the Gulma, which can be used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance functions.
Developed with the help of specialists from Cranefield University in Britain, the UAV can also be used for aerial imaging/mapping, telecommunications and weather monitoring missions.
The institute is in the final stage of development of the AMEBO III UAV, which features customizable flight control software, way-point navigation systems, high-speed real time image processing for on-board geo-location and target tracking, very high frequency capability around a 40-kilometer radius, communication systems, and modular and mobile ground control station.
According to the institute, the AMEBO III is suited for aerial surveillance, border patrol, maritime patrol, mapping, pipeline monitoring and disaster management. ■