VAI – Helibras OH-1 Alacrán
The OH-1 Alacrán originated in a Venezuelan Army requirement for a lightweight observation helicopter. Early on, the Alacrán had attracted Brazilian interest, the Brazilian armed forces were also looking for a fast lightweight observation helicopter that could also perform armed reconnaissance task. Eventually this would culminate in the issuing of a major joint development and production work share agreement between Venezuelan Aircraft Industries and Helibras.
In order to reduce development costs and time it was decided to base the helicopter in an existing design, as a result many foreign designs were analyzed with the Aérospatiale Gazelle being chosen as the basis for the Lightweight Observation helicopter. In late 2017 six ex French Army Gazelles were acquired for testing, three were sent to Venezuela and three to Brazil. After a thorough evaluation of the aircraft the engineers managed to come up with the upgrades required so the Gazelles could satisfy the requirements of both customers. The changes made to the original helicopter were the installation of two powerplants to comply with the safety and payload requirements, a new five blade rotor, new fire control systems, universal weapons pylon found mounted on both sides of the aircraft and later Mast-Mounted Sight (MMS) above the rotor system.
The first prototype OH-1A flew for the first time on 30 April 2018, four OH-1A prototypes were flown. On 6 July 2018, the first production OH-1A Alacrán conducted its first flight, but after a batch of only 10 aircraft it was decided to cancel the OH-1A and just focus on the improved OH-1B with the Mast-Mounted Sight and weapons pylons. The helicopter is capable of carrying a wide range of weapons including the Brimstone missile, 20mm gun pods, rocket pods and the mistral air to air missile. The first helicopters entered service with the Venezuelan Army Aviation and the Brazilian Army in September 2018, with a total of 158 helicopters on order, 90 for Venezuela and 68 for Brazil. The helicopters proved successful locating and fighting insurgents in the jungle and also in the antidrug operations, as well as a remarkable fire support platform.
Early on, the OH-1 Alacrán had attracted South African interest, the South African Air Force was looking for a light armed reconnaissance helicopter that could complement the larger and more expensive Rooivalk, after testing the helicopter in South Africa an order for 24 aircraft was placed. The South African Air Force variant differed from the standard helicopters in the addition of South African equipment which included the integration of the Mokopa air-to-ground missile, an electronic countermeasures suite coupled with chaff and flare dispensers. The variant now named OH-1BZ Spinnekop started entering service with the South African Air Force in August 2019 and proved capable of operating in difficult environments without any support.