SAAB 75th Anniversary - Linkoeping / Sweden

When you think of Sweden, then we generally think of five things; Pippi Longstocking, the Nobel prize, Ikea, Volvo and SAAB (the order is chosen randomly). The latter celebrated its 75th anniversary this year with a major event at the Linkoeping-Malmen airbase, where the headquarters of this tech company is based. This is also the location of the Flygvapen Museum, which is a must for all fans of the quality aviation products made in Sweden. The museum not only operates the only remaining airworthy SAAB B17A but has been rather busy for quite some time with the restoration of a B18 from the same manufacturer.
Saab has produced more than 4,000 aircraft in its long history, including such legendary aircraft as the J 35 DRAKEN. The fact that this company has done much more in the field of aviation than one might expect, (at least outside Sweden), can be seen quickly by a brief consideration of the company's history. A good reason for us to review the last 75 years of the SAAB company.


Unlike almost any other European country, (except perhaps Switzerland), Sweden was able to stay out of all military conflicts in the last 200 years, by a skillful and prudent policy of neutrality. Several historians see it a little more differently today, the success not to be drawn into any of the wars of the last two centuries justifies certainly one or the other concession, which the Swedish government had to accept over time, in many cases certainly against their conviction. The pillars of this doctrine was a modern, powerful army, another being a powerful arms industry. Company names as BOFORS (now part of the SAAB consortium), ERICSSON (also in the meantime acquired by SAAB), HAeGGLUNDS (now part of BAe Systems), VOLVO, and of course SAAB have always made sure that the Swedish army could fulfill its duties with modern weapons systems. While some defense companies, e.g. BOFORS has been in the business for more than 350 years (!), the Swedish automotive and aerospace industry was established relatively late, compared with other developed countries.


The mid-1930s manifested a desire to establish an independent aviation industry. The reasons were varied. On the one hand the Swedish Government wanted to be independent of foreign defense products, on the other hand the special climatic conditions of the country required specific solutions, which were often not be realized with aircraft and equipment purchased "off the shelf". For this purpose the company SAAB (Svenska Aeroplan Aktie Bolaget) was founded in 1937. The first combat aircraft made by Saab was the light single engined bomber with the designation B17 (not to be confused with the product made by Boeing). The development of this aircraft began in the mid-1930s, still under the aegis of a company that originally emerged from the locomotive manufactoring (AB Svenska Jaernvaegsverkstaedernas Aeroplanavdelning).  The maiden flight of the low-wing aircraft took place on May, the 18th of 1940. The special feature of the B17 is its undercarriage, which is not retracted into wheel wells of the wings or the fuselage like on other aircraft, but is docked with a specially shaped cover on the wings underside. This unique feature served also as a dive brake (the B17 was designed as a dive bomber for pinpoint precision attacks according to the then common doctrine). The B17 was powered by a 1065 hp Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp 14 cylinder radial engine. At the start of production this engine was not available, so SAAB used a Bristol Mercury XXIV rated at 980 hp. The same engine was also installed in the Swedish version of the Junkers Ju 86! The design of the B17 is strongly reminiscent of an airplane of American origin, which is not surprising. A relatively large number of U.S. American engineers worked for the young Swedish company until the U.S. entry into the war.


In addition to the developing of indigenous aircraft SAAB began concurrently with the licensed production of various aircraft models, including the North American NA-16-4M, which received the designation Sk 14 in Sweden. The most important combat aircraft of the Swedish Air Force (then the Royal Swedish Air Force - Kungliga Flygvapnet) in the early 1940s was the Junkers Ju 86. Of the 56 twin-engine bombers ordered 16 were manufactured by SAAB under license, but the rest were made by the Junkers works in Dessau. The Swedish version (Ju-86 K) was equipped instead of the original engines (BMW 205 or Jumo 132) with license produced Bristol Mercury XXIV (980 hp) and Mercury XIX (905 hp) 9-cylinder radial engines (license produced in Poland). Some aircraft had even been converted to torpedo bombers - a task which they performed until 1947! The experience gained collectively by the designers of the company SAAB in licensed production flowed immediately into their own projects. This was particularly important because of the expansion of the Second World War and the continuing threat to Scandinavia and Sweden whereby purchase of advanced military aircraft from foreign countries seemed almost impossible. The next in-house development with the model designation B18 was a fast bomber/reconnaissance aircraft that was powered by two Daimler-Benz DB 605B-twelve-cylinder V-engines built under license. From 1942 onwards, a total of 242 aircraft were built, which were in active service with the Swedish Air Force (Flygvapnet) until 1956. The B18 was designed as a conventional mid-wing plane, reaching a speed of nearly 600km / h due to its aerodynamic style and its powerful 2 x 1475hp engines. The only fully preserved machine of this type was recovered from the Baltic Sea in 1979, restored and exhibited at the Flygvapen Museum in Link”ping-Malmen.


Also powered by one Daimler-Benz DB-605B engine was one of the most interesting products from Saab - the Model J 21A. Its twin boom design using a pusher propeller, made it essential, that if the pilot was required to leave the aircraft whilst in flight, that an emergency ejection seat was available. The J 21 was thus the first production aircraft, which had an ejection seat, developed by Saab and designated as Mk.1. The J 21 also ushered in the modern jet age in Sweden. In 1947, several J 21A were converted with the British designed De Havilland Goblin 3 RM 1 A centrifugal turbines. The new designation was A 21R, where the letter A stands for Attack, ie attack / ground combat - (J was the name for JAKT - means fighter plane, S is the Swedish term for SPANNING = Reconnaissance). Due to the fact that the type 21 possessed no pressurized cabin, she was only of limited use as a fighter in the early 1950s and was therefore used primarily in the fighter bomber role. The interceptor function was taken over by the SAAB J 29 (first flight: 1st September 1948), which was due to their bulbous hull form named Tunnan (barrel). This jet plane could achieve not only Swedens connection to the technological development of the late 1940s, but even gave the Swedish engineers a leading role in the development of fighter aircraft. Due to the consistent implementation of German research results (swept wings, area rule) the J 29 was far superior to most contemporary aircraft (like the Gloster Meteor, De Havilland Vampire, Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star or the Republic F-84 Tunderstreak, etc), or at least equal (Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-15 & North American F-86 Sabre). Several world records substantiated that superiority. The engine used by the TUNNAN was a De Havilland Ghost turbojet with centrifugal compressor, which was fitted in the late-F version with an afterburner (Swedish designation: RM 2B).


Although the J 29 was state of the art when it was commissioned, it was out of date very quickly. The rapid development in this area in the 1950s Sweden was of course not immune to. Even before the official launch of the J 29 the development of the project 1150 was started culminating in a single-seat low-wing two-seater, which was later given the designation A 32 LANSEN (Lancer). This was from the beginning designed as a fighter bomber powered by a license built Rolls Royce Avon 100 turbojet with afterburner (Swedish designation: RM 5), which allowed it a high subsonic speed (in the orbital inclination flight the Lansen exceeded the sound barrier easily). As aircraft weapons four 20mm Hispano cannons were installed. In addition the A 32 could carry a large number of bombs and missiles on a total of 12 underwing pylons, including very modern (for its time) SAAB RB-04 anti-ship missiles. Even if the Lansen looks like a single seater due to its aerodynamically successful design, it is nevertheless a pure two-seater. While a single-seat fighter version was planned as an interim solution until the introduction of the Mach-2 capable DRAKEN, it was rejected due to high development costs in relation to the proposed, relatively short service life. Instead, 120 Hawker Hunter F.Mk4 were procured from Great Britain, which took over the job until 1966.


Almost simultaneously with the construction of the Lansen, SAAB worked on the first supersonic fighter aircraft made in Sweden, the legendary J 35 DRAKEN. The revolutionary double-delta configuration of the DRAKEN proved very successful. In addition to the excellent flight performance the DRAKEN primarily is recorded by its extreme robustness and the ability to operate from self-prepared makeshift runways (highways). The potential in the DRAKEN one can perhaps see in the fact that Swedish pilots were thus able to perform the maneuver known as COBRA (for safety reasons only at high altitude). With the exception of its special shape the DRAKEN however, was designed rather conventionally. Its weak point was the RM 6C engine, which is based on the Rolls Royce Avon 300 and was provided by Volvo with an afterburner. Although it gave the DRAKEN a top speed of Mach 2, power reserves were not available. On the plus side was the reliability of the RM 6C, which is pretty important regarding to the poor gliding properties of the DRAKEN.
With the type J 35 Saab also scored the first, albeit limited, export success. In addition, it was Swedens Scandinavian neighbors Denmark and Finland as well as the neutral country of Austria, who used the beautifully designed aircraft until the mid / late 1990s (in the case of Austria, even till December 2005).


In order to train pilots for the handling of high-performance combat jets, you also need appropriate education and training aircraft. This was recognized early on in Sweden. This is why the Swedish Air Force looked for a suitable lead-in trainer at a very early stage. Unfortunately there was no big choice in this category in the 1950/60`s. Besides the French Fouga Magister, the British Percival PROVOST and the Canadian AVRO Canada Tudor, the market as it was did not offer very much. So Sweden again had to find its own solution, which had its maiden flight on 29th June 1963 in the form of the type 105. The SAAB 105 (Swedish designation: Sk 60) is a high-wing monoplane with side-by-side seating. This aircraft looks a little stocky, but this has the advantage that it offers relatively expansive space in the cockpit area. Student pilot and instructor seated next to each other, which gives the teacher the opportunity to watch the trainees exactly on their fingers. The Sk 60 was originally powered by the two Turbomeca Aubisque turbojet engines (Swedish Ref: RM 9) manufactured under license rated at 6.8 kN thrust. Later these were replaced with Rolls Royce Williams FJ-44 1C. These are not necessarily more powerful, but have a lower consumption, significantly lower weight and significantly reduced noise levels than the RM 9. The Swedish designation for the Williams turbines is RM 15. The most powerful version of the 105 marks at the same time the single export success of this trainer aircraft. We are talking about the Saab 105 OE of the Austrian Armed Forces. From this variant, equipped with two General Electric J85 GE 17-B (12.68 kN thrust) turbofans Austria received a total of 40 aircraft, of which at the present time 22 aircraft are still in service. Twelve of these 105 OE's undergoes a modernization program (avionics, electrical) so further use is guaranteed until at least 2020.


Although Sweden was always resolute on its neutrality, the country was also oriented to the west and to a certain point it was seen as a potential partner of the NATO pact. This was a major reason why with the development of the next Swedish fighter aircraft, at the height of the Cold War, all the companies involved could also rely on US-American high-level technology. This in turn enabled the relatively rapid development of Flygplan 37 (airplane 37), which was later christened VIGGEN (thunderclap). With this combat aircraft Sweden got a revolutionary fighter, which "multi-role" label was absolutely justified. The company SAAB went here again unconventional ways, for instance canards were used in a supersonic fighter plane for the first time, which gave it in connection with a powerful afterburner engine (Volvo Flygmotor RM 8) a tremendous short take off capability. This engine was originally based on the Pratt & Whitney JT8D turbofan, which was designed for the civilian market and served in several airliners (eg Boeing 727). Powered by the RM 8 the VIGGEN was the first fighter aircraft, which had a turbofan engine with afterburner and thrust revers. This huge powerful high-thrust engine (RM 8B: 125.09 kN in afterburner mode) allowed the VIGGEN to take off with full weapon load after only after 400m. Most modern avionics (eg: a Decca pulse Doppler radar, head-up displays, a SAAB developed CK37 central computer, etc.) gave the VIGGEN capabilities that are even achieved by many of today`s fighters with difficulty.


In contrast to comparable aircraft to the fourth generation, which all have canards (Eurofighter EF-2000, SAAB JAS 39 GRIPEN, AMD RAFALE, etc.), the VIGGEN was designed aerodynamically stable and had a conventional flight control system (no fly-by- wire). The VIGGEN was also a true multi-role fighter jet, which was used with the Swedish Air Force in fighter (JA 37), bomber (AJ 37), and reconnaissance (SF 37) role. In contrast to the DRAKEN the VIGGEN has not been a sales success outside Sweden. A potential application of India was vetoed by the Americans, who feared a technology transfer to the former Soviet Union (India always cultivated good relations with the USSR and then as now was equipping its forces with products made in Russia). A total of 392 units were manufactured from the VIGGEN, the last aircraft was decommissioned in 2007 and replaced by the current type of the company SAAB, the JAS 39 GRIPEN.


To have better export opportunities on the international market, SAAB signed a cooperation agreement with the British company BAE Systems. To this end, the company Gripen International was founded. The history of the development of the JAS 39 is not without setbacks - the prototype crashed shortly after the first flight (which took place on 9th of December 1988), fortunately the pilot was only slightly injured. The reason for this accident was a software error. The sales success is also limited up today, which has to do with the change in the threat situation after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Eastern bloc (as a result, many governments have reduced their defense budgets), but also with the performance of the GRIPEN. This does have a state-of-the-art avionics and probably the most advanced data link system, but the flight performance meets rather the generation of fighter aircraft of the F-16/FA-18 class. Therefore, SAAB not only packed the very latest generation of electronics into the newest variant, but also fitted a much more powerful engine (General Electric GE 414 g) into JAS 39E / F (GRIPEN NG = Next Generation). This is the same engine which powers the Boeing FA-18E / F Super Hornet. It provides the GRIPEN its supercruise capability.
On the credit side of the GRIPEN stands the low acquisition and operating costs and ease of maintenance, which "can be performed even by conscripts with minimal technical background," according to the manufacturer. To this day, 250 + aircraft have left the production lines, future contracts, for example of the Swiss Air Force have not yet ratified. The Swiss Government plans a procurement of 22 aircraft to replace its outdated Northrop F-5E Tiger II. In addition to the Swedish Air Force (204 aircraft) the GRIPEN still flies in Hungary (14 aircraft leased), South Africa (26 aircraft), Czech Republic (14 aircraft leased ) and Thailand (12 aircraft). One JAS 39D does its work at the Empire Test Pilot School at the Royal Air Force in Great Britain.


One export success (not only for Swedish conditions) remains yet to be announced. With the Saab S100B ARGUS, Sweden has one of the most modern (and affordable especially for smaller air forces) airborne early warning systems on the market. The company Ericsson Microwave Systems (in the meantime, Saab Electronic Defence Systems) developed the PS-890 Erieye AESA Radar (Active Electronically Scanned Array) which is one of the world's most advanced airborne early warning system and can be installed on different aircraft types. Beside Sweden the Brazilian Air Force owns 6 aircraft of the type EMBRAER EMB-145 equipped with the Erieye radar. The latest customer is the Pakistani Air Force, which uses the SAAB 2000 aircraft as the carrier for its early warning system. What makes the Erieye system so sophisticated is the fact, that no highly qualified radar personnel is required on board the aircraft (but only in conjunction with the EGIS - Erieye Ground segment interface, respectively, the JAS 39 GRIPEN). Instead, all data is transferred on a highly secure data link system to the ground station or / and also led directly to the controlled airspaces warplanes. This not only saves precious resources and therefore a lot of money, but also allows the installation of the entire radar system in a relatively small aircraft.

Besides the above mentioned products, the defense company Saab has also designed a number of commercial aircraft. Especially in the regional aircraft sector the company is quite successful with the types SAAB 340 and SAAB 2000 (based on the 340). The automotive division was only founded in 1945 as an offshoot of its parent company, but was cut off from this in 1989 and unfortunately had to file for bankruptcy this year.

Sweden's defense industry had always brought powerful products on the market. Not infrequently, it has developed through unconventional solutions, innovative and pioneering aircraft, which were often far ahead of their time. The international commercial success was however mostly marginal, which had nothing to do with the quality of the products, but rather with the rigorous Swedish policy of neutrality. However, the times in which a defense company could live from orders only from their own government, is long gone. Therefore, Saab has developed into a multinational corporation (the number of employees in over 32 different countries is currently being given as 14,000), which with its high quality products and the proverbial Swedish reliability is a serious competitor to the ever-shrinking, but none the less lucrative defense market.

Robert Kysela / CHK6


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