Commonly known as drones (to the layperson), unmanned aerial systems (UASs) have use cases as boundless as our imagination, across practically all industries.

But while they’re all the rage now, Africa has been at the forefront of UAS innovation for 30 years.

Let’s take a flip down memory (air)lane and over 30 years of African UAS history:

South African UAS history

In the 1970s, the CSIR and Kentron developed the Champion, Africa’s first indigenously-produced modern-style UAS. It was deployed to neighbouring countries to provide surveillance, and later served in the SA Air Force as a training aircraft.

Subsequently, the SAAF procured a series of Scout UASs, which did surveillance in neighbouring Southern African countries. Meanwhile, the CSIR continued work on successors to the Champion, culminating in the Seeker I in 1987, used in tactical surveillance and artillery spotting missions.

In 1991, the aircraft’s operator, 10 Squadron, was disbanded and the remaining Seekers were transferred to Kentron, on contract to the SAAF. Under private development, the Seeker I evolved into the Seeker II, which attracted the first foreign buyers for Kentron – by then a part of Denel.

Concurrently, a new company, later named Paramount Advanced Technologies made inroads into the UAS space. And despite diminished state funding, Denel continued development of the Seeker 2 into the Seeker 200 and the Seeker 400.

Africa’s UAS revolution

On the African continent, it is only in the last few years that these systems are increasingly being developed and used for commercial purposes.

So, for example, drones deliver blood to almost half of Rwanda‘s blood transfusion centres. In Malawi, UASs deliver HIV test kits to and from remote parts of the country. Elsewhere, drones are used to combat poaching, track illegal maritime activities and oil spills, or to augment safaris.

Tellumat innovation

For its part, Tellumat has developed, manufactured and supported market-leading UAS sub-systems for 30-plus years before launching the ASTUS, its first foray into full-scale UASs (see elsewhere in Engenuity).

Since 1982, the company has been producing UAS data link solutions and is currently on its fifth-generation datalink. Customer platforms include Denel’s Seeker 200 and Seeker 400, Paramount’s Vulture, UAE-based Adasi’s Al-Sabr Camcopter, Saudi Arabia-based PSDSARC’s Skyguard, just to name a few.

In addition, Tellumat has been producing UAS components since 2007, including:

  • UAS building blocks – flight management computers (FMC), Health Management Computers (HMC), sensor packs, operator control units (OCU) and antenna positioners;
  • System simulation expertise – including Hardware-in-the-Loop simulation (HILS) flight dynamics, inertial navigation, and atmosphere and weather simulations;
  • CSIR’s MUAS (Modular Unmanned Aerial System) avionics platform; and
  • Navigation equipment for Red Bull Air Race