In Memory of Dr. Paul Potgieter - The Father of the Rooivalk

By Jaco Kotze


Photo Credit Artist C.T.Sibiya

The year of 2023 ended very sadly for the aerospace industry, with the early departure of one of the giants of the South African aerospace industry, Dr. Paul Potgieter.

Dr. Potgieter was globally known and well respected within the aerospace sector, with a vast career of innovation and passion for the aerospace engineering industry. A revolutionary aerospace engineer and founder of Aerosud Aviation, he is perhaps best known by all as the "Father" of the Atlas/Denel Rooivalk attack helicopter program.

Photo Jaco Kotzé

It started at the National Institute for Defence Research (now known as the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research or CSIR), where he was one of the lead designers and programme manager for the Atlas XH-1 Alpha attack helicopter. The XH-1 was the concept demonstrator for the then planned Atlas Rooivalk attack helicopter project. The results from the XH-1 program were ultimately good enough to convince Atlas and the South African Air Force to go ahead with the development of a dedicated attack helicopter - which would ultimately become the well-known and globally respected Denel Rooivalk.

Photo Credit Wikipedia

Dr. Potgieter would continue his work on the Rooivalk attack helicopter at Atlas Denel where he was the programme manager for the Rooivalk development. Later he would become the assistant general manager for the helicopter division at Denel Aviation.

Photo Jaco Kotzé

Following the success of the Rooivalk project, Dr. Potgieter realized the vast opportunities in the aerospace industry for innovative design and development. In 1990, Dr. Potgieter then founded Aerosud Aviation together with his business partners, some who worked together with him on the Rooivalk development program and headed Aerosud Aviation as their Managing Director.

Photo Credit Aerosud Aviation

One of the first challenging projects which Aerosud worked on was the successful conversion of the Mirage F1 and Cheetah D fighter aircraft to accommodate the Russian Klimov jet engine which was used in their Mig 29's. This happened during the time that South Africa was still subject to international sanctions, operating from a modest facility at Grand Central Airport. Within months of the first proving test flights on the conversion, sanctions were lifted and the project was shut down.

Photo Credit Aerosud Aviation

Dr. Potgieter however realized the opportunities and became one of the first private sector South African aerospace leaders to establish commercial industrial ties with UK/EU based Airbus, GKN & BAE Systems as well as US based Boeing & Spirit Aerosystems. Ultimately Aerosud and Airbus would go on to establish a very successful business relationship, resulting in Aerosud becoming the exclusive supplier of components and sub-structures to Airbus and Boeing.

Ohot credit Willie Bodenstein

Another development which Dr Potgieter and his son, Paul Potgieter Jnr. would also be remembered for, was that of the Advanced High-Performance Reconnaissance Light Aircraft, better know as the AHRLAC project. Despite some disputes in the joint venture between Aerosud and project funder Paramount's shareholders, ADC, the AHRLAC programme was taken over by Paramount Aerospace Industries through business rescue and is currently produced as the Mwari Precision Strike Aircraft system.

Photo Credit Willie Bodenstein, Pilot's Post

Dr. Potgieter was a pioneer in the aerospace engineering industry, adopted stated of the art materials and manufacturing processes and further drove future developments of these with the CSIR. During an interview with BE Magazine, when asked, his piece of wisdom given was that he believed that the single most important trait in business was to be brutally honest with yourself - "In responding to any problem, challenge or opportunity, believe what you need to do, and not what you want to do - Being in denial renders it impossible in finding a solution". He will be missed by all for his engineering excellence, passion and commitment towards the development of the South African Aerospace Industry.

Photo Jaco Kotzé

Dr. Potgieter's memorial service was held in Pretoria on the 15th of January. During the service his remarkable contribution to the Rooivalk development program was honoured by the South African Air Force 16 Squadron by having his ashes flown to the church in the Rooivalk, which also did a ceremonial flypast in his honour. His family was also presented with a stunning hand sketched painting of Dr Potgieter together with that of the Rooivalk.

Photo Credit Potgieter Family

Dr. Paul Potgieter's love for his family and his sons were well known; during the interview with BE Magazine on being asked what he considered to be his proudest achievement in life, he answered that it was that his sons joined him in business - "So maybe I have gotten at least something right, and that gives me great joy."

Photo Credit Aerosud

Fly high sir, you will be dearly missed by us all. Pilots Post would like to extend our deepest condolences to his family and to his business associates.

Article information Credits: Metalworking News & BE Magazine

Denel Rooivalk Battle Proven

Aviation Personalities

Copyright © 2024 Pilot's Post PTY Ltd
The information, views and opinions by the authors contributing to Pilot’s Post are not necessarily those of the editor or other writers at Pilot’s Post.