ALONG A WINDING road down the edge of an airport near Pretoria, South Africa’s capital, is an aeronautical version of a Mad Max world. An old UN cargo plane rusts in a field. Jammed up against fences are aeroplanes of various vintages and states of disassembly. “Airheads” (aviation enthusiasts) scrounge for parts to get their machines aloft again.

Just around the corner is one of the most modern aircraft assembly plants anywhere in the world. In it stand two brand new prototypes of the Advanced High Performance Reconnaissance Light Aircraft, or AHRLAC, designed to fill a gap in the market for a rugged aeroplane jam-packed with sensors that can patrol borders, look for poachers and drop guided weapons on insurgents.