Swedish Thunder

When one thinks of a fighter jet, the first thing that comes to mind is an aircraft with a sleek quality to it. Swept-back or delta wings, a bubble canopy, numerous hardpoints able to carry an assortment of weaponry, etc. This perfectly describes the Saab 37 Viggen, aka, Thunderbolt.


The Swedish Air Force had two mainstays that originally flew as separate attack and fighter platforms: the Saab 32 Lansen and the Saab 35 Draken respectively. The Lansen, originally introduced into Swedish service in 1956 first flew in 1952, functioning as a ground attack/aerial maritime offense aircraft. Fighter versions were also produced, though they were woefully inadequate in terms of maneuverability and speed. Lansens were built tough and rugged, easy to pilot and very durable (case in point, there are two Saab 32s still in flying condition for scientific research, operated by the SAF). The Draken was the fighter component of the Swedish Air Force. A delta-winged beast, it first flew in 1955 and was brought into service in 1960, serving until 2005 with the Austrian Air Force. Though a very capable airframe, able to stand up to some of the best aircraft the Soviet had in their inventories, the Draken was beginning to show signs of being outclassed by later MiGs unveiled in the late-1960s/early 1970s.


Enter the Viggen.  The program that lead to the Viggen had its roots in the 1950s, about the same time the Lansen came into existence. The SAF decided that it needed a unique airframe that was able to stand up to odd, previously unasked-for conditions such as the ability to land and take off from roads and national highways, crudely-fashioned runways, etc. It was supposed to be relatively easy to maintain, simple to fly and rugged and nimble. Saab, the established primary air defense contractor within Sweden at the time created a brand new almost revolutionary design: a delta wing with forward-placed canards, higher up on the fuselage than the main wing. The advantages of the canards in this particular configuration were twofold: shorter distance required for takeoff and higher-than-expected maneuverability. Thanks to an agreement brokered through the United States National Security Council, Sweden had access to US technology, allowing for the Viggen to be even more advanced in design than previously anticipated and much cheaper to mass-produce.

Powered by a fuel-efficient Volvo-built turbofan derived from a Pratt & Whitney design, the Viggen was able to reach speeds in excess of Mach 2 at higher altitudes and Mach 1 at lower altitudes, as per the program requirements outlined by the SAF. The Viggen, being a single-seater, was outfitted with the advanced CK 37 onboard computer, eliminating the need for a navigator/radar intercept officer. Specially-built radar systems working in tandem with one another gave the Viggen’s pilot the ability to have a “hawk’s eye view”, so to speak, of the aerial battlefield.There were also reconnaissance versions fitted with exceptionally high quality cameras. Constant avionics upgrades kept it current enough to play with the latest in opposing Soviet technology.


Saab 37s generally didn’t garner a whole lot of attention throughout their service life. They were known as reliable, practical fighters and were downright sexy aircraft. Among a few accolades they earned throughout the years, Swedish Viggens were the only aircraft in history to ever achieve a radar lock on the famed SR-71 Blackbirds. SAF pilots keeping in mind the predictable continuously-used routes of Blackbirds flying over their assigned airspace were able to get a lock through providing a general location of their target aircraft to radars on the ground which relayed data back to the Viggen’s fire-control computer, allowing for the lock to be maintained briefly.

The Viggens were gradually phased out of service with the advent of the Saab JAS 39 Gripen, its successor which shares many of its design features, albeit modernized and significantly more advanced in nature.

First flight: February 1967
Wingspan: 34 feet 9 inches
Length: 53 feet 9 inches
Height: 19 feet 4 inches
Weight: 21,100 pounds
Power plant: Volvo RM8B turbofan
Speed: Max. speed of 1,386 miles per hour (Mach 2.1)
Ceiling: 59,100 feet
Accommodation One pilot
Armament: 1- 30mm Oerlikon cannon
6- missile pylons able to be outfitted with air-to-air missiles or rocket pods
1- optional electronic countermeasures pod

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