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At just after 1pm on Feb 8th, 2006, a Saab AJSH 37 Viggen, ‘red 57′ of F21, Norbottens Flygflottilj (Norrbotten Air Force Wing), Swedish Air Force, dropped out of a dull Lincolnshire sky, onto the runway of the Royal Air Force College, Cranwell, Lincolnshire. The pilot, Captain Jonas Haraldsson, SwAF, had just transitted from southern Sweden in 90 mins (the home base of F21 is at Luleå, just south of the Arctic Circle), and the Viggen was on its delivery flight to Newark Air Museum, just over the border in Nottinghamshire. Over the next few days, Swedish Air Force technicians removed sensitive equipment and prepared the Viggen, (serial number ’373918′) for onward delivery by road to its new home, where it would remain on a long-term loan from the National Swedish Defence Museum.    

Sweden had remained steadfastly neutral during WW1 and WW2; the Scandinavian country traded with both the Allies and Nazi Germany, and their air force acquired both German aircraft (Junkers Ju 86K bombers) and British aircraft (Gloster Gladiator fighters – J8/J8A in Swedish service). Sweden had a surprisingly strong aircraft industry, bolstered by their neutrality, which was dominated by Saab (the Svenska Aeroplan AB used to use style themselves ‘SAAB’ until the early 1950s; they now are listed as ‘Saab’). After Sweden bought De Havilland Vampires post-war, Saab produced the superb J 29 ‘Tunnen’ (‘Barrel’) jet fighter and a very competent attack/reconnaissance aircraft the J 32 (fighter) and A 32 (attack) Lansen (‘Lance’). It was recognised in the 1960s the Swedish Air Force (Flygvapnet) needed a modern replacement for its fighters, reconnaissance, maritime reconnaissance/attack, and attack aircraft. An unusual series of operational requirements lead to a particular set of design solutions. The need to operate in an emergency from lengths of narrow roadway gave rise to twin-wheel undercarriage legs, with the wheels in tandem. Short-field performance – as little as 600 yards take-off distance - was ensured by a canard wing equipped with flaps, placed ahead of the main delta wing, on the engine inlets. The Volvo RM8 turbofan used to propel the Viggen to Mach 2.1 was a licence-built version of the American Pratt & Whitney JT8-D, a turbofan used to power many commercial airliners, and was equipped with both an afterburner and thrust-reversing. The RM8 gave 16,200 lbs thrust, dry and no less than 28,110 lbs in afterburner. However, in afterburner, the fuel consumption was so high that ALL fuel would have been consumed in less than 10 minutes! The reverse thrust was useful, in that the A 37 could be reversed along runways, and turned into small dispersal areas.

Although the attack version of the aircraft, the AJ 37, was produced first, it was followed by other dedicated versions, SK 37 (two-seat trainer), SF 37 (photo reconnaissance), SH 37 (maritime reconnaissance and strike), and the JA 37, a stretched and much modified interceptor. The SH 37 was capable of carrying the highly effective sea-skimming RB-04E anti-ship missile and the Rb 24J (AIM-9J Sidewinder). In 1993, a reconditioning and development programme upgraded a number of the basic versions of the Viggen; these had the letters AJ added as a prefix, hence the machine flown into RAF Cranwell, an AJSH 37, was an upgraded maritime strike aircraft.

Newark Air Museum’s Viggen is resplendent in a complex camouflage scheme; the Blue-grey 058M undersides are complemented with a ’splinter’ pattern of Black 093M, Dark Green 326M, Mid Green 322M and Tan 507M upper surfaces. I am very impressed with this ‘Thunderbolt’; a rare type for any museum to have, and an unusual, versatile aircraft.

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