Friday, June 14, 2013

Video Del Fuego, Part LXI

When most of you see the name Saab, you think about cars. And that's natural enough, since there's probably a Saab dealership within driving distance. But cars weren't Saab's original product. The name is an acronym for Swedish Aeroplane Limited. Yes, the original Saab made jets. Cars were a side-line.

After World War II, Sweden took a good look around them. There was one alliance forming up to the west, and another to the east. They decided not to join either one of them. On the whole, they were friendlier with the West than with the East ... but they'd learned from hard experience what "guarantees" of safety and security could actually mean once the fat was in the fire. Sweden was, by God, going to be prepared to meet its fate, alone if need be. In part, this meant a commitment to build their own armaments, from guns to tanks to fighter planes.

The result? Some of the most beautiful aircraft that have ever flown.

The Saab J-35 Draken is a spectacular airplane. In aviation, so often form follows function, and if it looks right, it probably is right. And, oh yes, the Draken looks right.

When I look at this, I have a hard time believing this is a design that's a dozen years older than I am. Surely, something so clean, so streamlined, has to have come along later than 1955? What I don't have any trouble believing is that some of them are still flying.

That arm of Saab is still in business. After building the J-35 Draken, they built a follow-on fighter, the J-37 Viggen. Today, they're building the JAS-39 Gripen, which is in service with Sweden, the Czech Republic, Hungary, South Africa, Switzerland, and Thailand.

The interesting thing about the Gripen is that it can refuel and rearm with a pickup truck's worth of crew and tools. The Swedes really take austere basing seriously. Of course, they knew all along that in a real war, their airfields would have been smashed almost immediately ... they always expected to have to operate from remote highways.

As an engineer, I find it interesting how a different set of constraints and priorities evolve a different approach to solving the same problem. In the unlikely event that the F-35 falls through, I wonder if one of our prime contractors would be interested in offering the Marines a license-built Gripen?

Never happen, of course, but it's interesting to think about.

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