Huge drone made in South Africa takes flight

Pretoria-based defence group Milkor’s 380 drone underwent a successful first test flight three years and seven months after the project kicked off, Netwerk24 reports.

The Milkor 380 is the largest drone built in Africa, with a wingspan of 18.6 metres, a continuous flight time of up to 35 hours, a range of up to 2,000km, and a maximum altitude of 9,000 metres.

The company is now conducting regular test flights and hopes to have four drones ready for the market by the end of 2023.

The Milkor 380 is controlled from the ground by three people, including a pilot, a commander, and someone to control the equipment onboard.

Daniël du Plessis, business development manager at Milkor, said the drone’s size is critical as it determines what equipment it can carry.

“Some of the sensors with which it is equipped are heavy. A larger drone can accommodate more of them and even weapons,” Netwerk24 quoted Du Plessis as saying.

The infrared and high-resolution cameras onboard allow the Milkor 380 to undertake observation, intelligence gathering, reconnaissance, and offensive missions.

It can also be used for conservation, combating land and sea poaching, and border control.

Milkor promotes the drone as a complete observation system. It offers a control room, maintenance programmes, logistics support for fuel and parts, operator training, and satellite and ground-based communication infrastructure.

The company doesn’t specify a price for the drone, as this varies based on each customer’s specifications. Milkor’s drones are entirely built in South Africa.

BusinessTech reported in February 2023 that the company began testing the Milkor 380 with the South African Air Force in Cape Town.

At the time, Du Plessis provided brief specifications for the drone, summarised in the table below.

Milkor 380 specifications
Length 9 metres
Maximum range 2,000km
Maximum flight altitude 30,000ft (9,144km)
Operating altitude 23,000ft (7,010km)
Maximum flight time 35 hours non-stop
Maximum load capacity 210kg
Maximum speed 250km/h
Operating speed 110km/h to 150km/h

Using drones for security in South Africa has received a big push recently.

Earlier this month, the newly-launched border management authority announced it would procure technology, including drones, to eliminate crime, lawlessness and corruption at South Africa’s 72 ports of entry.

In May 2023, the Gauteng Department of e-Government revealed it had set a budget of R1.7 billion to buy drones, camera surveillance, and other crime-fighting tech.

Gauteng MEC for e-Government, Research, and Development, Mzi Khumalo, detailed the province’s plans to acquire high-quality drones for use by law enforcement.

“Amongst other projects, the department has sought to prioritize the procurement and management of crime-fighting technologies to establish e-policing for the Gauteng Province,” said Khumalo.

Fitted with cameras, drones are an effective tool to help security companies like Fidelity to deter and catch criminals.

The department also wants to deploy CCTV cameras at every major road, business centre, and other crime hotspots.

The province also previously punted a plan to give residents electronic panic buttons to quickly contact emergency services when they are in distress.

A tender for the panic buttons has already been published, and submissions closed in late March 2023.

Now read: Critical South African network infrastructure possibly vulnerable to hijacking

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Huge drone made in South Africa takes flight