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Atlas FCA-1 Carver fighter

The Atlas Carver (sometimes incorrectly referred to as "CAVA" by both Janes and Flight International) was a project launched in the early 1980s by the South African Atlas Aircraft Corporation to replace the aging Canberra, Buccaneer, and Mirage III attack aircraft of the South African Air Force. Development of the fighter was a joint-effort by the SAAF, Armscor's; Atlas Aircraft and the National Research laboratory. The aircraft would have been a twin-engined two-seat canard delta of similar size and appearance to the Dassault 2000.

The "Cava" apparently came from an interview/leak, and was due to differing accents between the 2 people having the conversation. Project Carver was a randomly generated code-name, as is done in many instances around the globe. During Africas decolonisation era of the 1950s to 1970s, Moscows support for liberation movements and aid to newly independent governments was viewed by Pretoria as simply Soviet neo-imperialism. After 1974, when Mozambique and Angola gained independence under Marxist governments and the liberation war in Rhodesia entered its final phase, South Africa became particulary alarmed.

Armscor subsidiary Atlas Aircraft developed the two-seat, twin-engined multi-role fighter for entry into service with the South African Air Force from the mid to late 1990s. The aircraft would replace those SAAF Dassault Mirage IIIs that were not to be converted to Cheetah configuration, and also the service's ageing Canberras and Buccaneers. The Atlas Cheetah was a total upgrade of the Mirage III, but it was only an interim solution until the late 90s when the Carver would have entered into service. Later, Carver would also replace the younger Mirage F.lAZs and F.lCZs in the attack and interceptor roles.

The aircraft would be newly built rather than modified from existing in-service airframes. The Mirage III wing adapted for the Cheetah will be further developed and fly by wire might be added. Cava would have the latest avionics available in South Africa, a newly modernised version of the Cheetah nav/attack system, which was already giving the SAAF its first accurate long toss and first-pass laydown capability.

The SAAF stated that the Cava would be based on the Mirage III/Cheetah design and powered by one, and later two licence built Snecma Atar 9K-50 engines. The original single-engine Carver design was seriously underpowered, almost certainly due to the inability to obtain modern engines thanks to the arms embargo. After a lot of work had been done on this initial single-engined version, that the programme then moved toward a larger, twin engined aircraft. The reason for this seems to have been the fact that Carver was intended to replace not just the Mirages, but also the Canberra and Buccaneer in the long range strike role, and probably with a nuclear role to boot. One of the follow on twin-engined developments that replaced the single engined variant had a single vertical fin, and there has been info put out that there was also a configuration studied with two vertical fins.

The design was to be a Fly by Wire (FBW) unstable design with a large percentage of composites in its construction. There is evidence that the Advanced Composite Evaluator (ACE) constructed by Atlas/Denel in the late 80's early 90's was part of the R&D into aircraft composites.The Ace was a turbo prop trainer in the class of the Pilatus PC-9 or Tucano.It had at the time the highest percentage of composites in a military type aircaft in the world at the time.

The aircraft was believed to be a scaled-up Cheetah, of about the same size as the Dassault Mirage 4000. Atlas is known to have recruited several hundred Israeli designers and technicians made redundant by the demise of the Israel Aircraft Industries Lavi program. Armament for the Cava could include the V3B or its emerging replacement V3C dogfight missile, conventional bombs or the South African smart bomb. The home avionics industry had developed effective ECM equipment for the Mirage F1, but a modern medium-range air-to-air missile is becoming necessary.

The project was necessated by the arms embargo imposed by United Nations Security Council Resolution 418 against the Apartheid South Africa regime. The Carver project was canceled in 1991. President F.W. de Klerk mentioned its cancellation in parliament along with the six nuclear weapons in the early 1990s. Upwards of 10 billion Rand [nearly $2 billion] had been spent on the project already as well as a mock-up to test systems placement. Comprehensive wind tunnel tests and a host of related work had been completed.

The path of developing an existing design was chosen because South Africa had neither the technological nor financial resources, and no longer the operational necessity to develop a completely new aircraft or its engine. The settlements in Angola and Namibia gave the SAAF a pause in which to prepare future policy and decide on equipment level.

In February 1991 the South African Air Force cancelled its secret future fighter project and planned to buy an off-the-shelf type to replace its Mirage F.ls and Atlas Cheetahs, beginning mid-1990s. The SAAF was understood to be looking at fighters available on the open market and was thought to have contacted both Mikoyan and Sukhoi, but nothing came of the schemes. South Africa now believed that the expense of developing its own fighter cannot be justified in the light of the decreased threat since peace with Angola, and the country's progress away from apartheid. The latter would lead to normalisation of international relationships and the dropping of the UN arms embargo on South Africa by the time the new fighter is needed.

Both the South African Mirage F-1 and the Cheetah fighters were to be re-engined with the Mig-29 Klimov RD33 (SMR-95) power-plant in 1994. This project was terminated mainly because of South African defence cuts in the early 1990s.

Crew 1
Length 15.06m (49ft 5 in)
Wingspan N/A
Height N/A
Wing Area N/A
Powerplant 1 SNECMA Atar 09C turbojet
Dry thrust 41.97 kN (9,436 lbf)
Thrust with afterburner 60.80 kN (13,668 lbf)
Maximum speed Mach 2 (2,350 km/h, 1,268 knots, 1,460 mph) at 12,000 m (39,370 ft)
Armament eight external hardpoints
  • A-Darter SRAAM
  • R-Darter MRAAM
  • MUPSOW or Torgos stand-off cruise missile
  • LGB
  • 'dumb' bombs



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Page last modified: 02-01-2017 19:48:34 ZULU