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Gripens-a-plentyGardening in Sweden

Geoff Stockle & Paul Downes, Aeromedia take stock of the Swedish Air Force's main airshow of the year at Ronneby. Photography by Geoff Stockle

This year's Swedish Air Force open day and airshow was hosted by F(flottilj) 17 'Blekinge' Wing at Ronneby-Tullinge, located close to the Baltic coast in an area popularly known as the 'Garden of Sweden'. Sunday 29 August proved to be a perfect late summer's day and provided an ideal setting for the show that ran with excellent timing and organisation.

Swedish specials
Draken
Gulfstream
AB412
AS332
Anniversary Gripen
Kv107
S102
Argus
TP89
A109
Gripens
Lansen
Viggen
B17
B17
Safir
Team 60
Saab 105
Lansen Gate Guard

F17 has recently converted to the Gripen, and this year celebrates its 60th year, being formed on 1 July 1944. The first type operated was the Junkers 86, built under licence as the B3, being followed by the indigenous Saab T18. The first jet operated was the Saab J21R, used for a short time for jet conversion before the far more capable J32 Lansen entered service in 1955. A further advance in capability came with the advent of the Mach 2 Draken in 1973, the last Lansen unit disbanding in 1975. 1978 saw the first Viggens delivered, forming Recce and maritime strike squadrons alongside the fighter Draken unit. The Drakens were withdrawn in 1982 and the fighter variant JA37 Viggen entered service. The recce squadrons moved to F10 wing in 1993 and the wing became a pure fighter unit again with two divisions. The first Gripen moved to Ronneby from the disbanded F10 wing in 2002, spelling the end of the Viggen's service at Ronneby, the last one being withdrawn in 2003. The wing is just beginning to take on the 'C' version of the Gripen and also hosts the Swedish Air Force Rapid reaction Unit (SWAFRAP). Ronneby is also the base for search and rescue helicopters as part of the Sea helicopter battalion, operating AS332M Super Puma (Hkp 10) and Kawasaki-Vertol KV107 (Hkp4) as well as the sole Casa C212 Aviocar (Tp89).

MBB Bo105 displayMost of the types in the Swedish inventory were on view in the static, alongside a few foreign visitors - however, much to the frustration of photographers, barriers were placed very close to the aircraft, which were parked almost on top of each other. Highlights included the first Agusta A109 (Hkp15) on loan from the manufacturer and an Embraer ERJ145AEW destined for the Greek Air Force, being exhibited by Ericsson due to the installed Erieye AWACS system, very similar to that in the Swedish Air Force's S100 Argus. The KV107's replacement, the NH90, appeared in the form of the first prototype in the hangar display. Three Viggens were displayed, a JA37 from F4, a AJSF37 recce bird from F27 and pride of place, a SK37E two-seater resplendent in the wonderful splinter camouflage. Four Gripens were lined up showing various weapons fits, including a two-seat 'B' and a brand new 'C' variant, but apart from serials, recognition is nearly impossible. It has to be said that compared to the Viggens, with their camouflage, differing nose shapes, wing and squadron markings and hi-viz dayglo numbers the Gripens are incredibly dull and boring! Not even a wing number is exhibited, making them very anonymous. Good looking they may be, but they lack the brutish presence of a Viggen and look almost puny when parked next to one.

A S100D AEW Argus was lined up next to an 'Open Skies' configured Tp100A and in a similar attractive VIP scheme was a TP102A Gulfstream IV. Several Saab 105s are attached to the wing for hack duties and a couple were displayed statically, including a laser-nose equipped SK60C. The only foreign statics consisted of a German Tornado ECR, two Danish F-16s, a Danish Army Hughes 500 and two Fennecs. Very strange that no other neighbouring or Baltic states were represented, especially when one considers that Norwegian, Finnish and Danish types were deployed to the Swiss show at Payerne a week later. Privately owned types included several Saab 51 Safirs, including a Norwegian schemed example, a garish painted Tiger Moth, a DC3 and several flying club machines.

Volvo test centre...The flying display ran for some five hours, with a short pre-lunch segment featuring a Su-26, aerobatic glider and the wonderful Saab B17. This unique machine sounds superb with its throaty twin-Wasp radial and looks every inch a big powerful warplane. First flown in 1940 and originally designed for reconnaissance duties, this type was transformed into a dive-bomber and remained in Swedish service until 1948 and in Ethiopia until 1963! This would look great at Flying Legends - take note, TFC! A home based Super Puma performed a fire-fighting water drop and this was followed by an item that used to be common place at UK shows - frequent reference was made by the commentator to a 'Vulvoe' (Swedish speak for Volvo) that was parked illegally, and sure enough said poor car appeared suspended beneath a KV107, being unceremoniously dropped from around 200 feet and as expected given the Volvo's superb strength, left a huge crater without much damage to itself!

The main flying began at a little after 13:00 with a mass flyby of eight Gripens operating from F21 at Lulea followed by the Lansen and Draken of the Air Force's historic unit. Both performed super solo displays making good use of their afterburning Avons. After witnessing the final foreign Viggen display at Zeltweg last year, it was good to once again see a 'Thunderbolt' thundering around the blue sky. F4 wing have maintained a solo Viggen display for thirteen events this year, but alas none overseas. Superb formation flying was exhibited by four F17 pilots in a four-ship Gripen display, including a painfully slow high-alpha pass in box formation.

The first foreign display item appeared next in the shape of the ever popular Dutch F-16 solo. Two Swedish Hercules performed a couple of flypasts, but one can't help thinking the superb solo display would have given more impact. A further fire-fighting demo by a Super Puma and KV107 led into the 'Team Vingarna' display featuring an AB412 (Hkp11) and two MBB Bo105s (Hkp9). A very exciting build-up with pumping music transpired into a quite boring display of 'how to fly a helicopter' in the AB412 and some energetic manoeuvring by one of the Bo105s. Eight home-based Gripens then launched to hold and the second foreign flyer displayed its awesome 2004 sequence - namely the Swiss Air Force's F/A-18C. The final overseas item followed, being the French Mirage 2000. Foreign displays may have been few, but they were the pick of this year's solo jet acts. The Swedish Air Force's 'Team 60' displayed their rarely seen performance in relatively new colours, now also featuring Lansen steals the showunderwing smoke pods. The formation keeping was good, but the overall effect is somewhat lacklustre compared to other teams. The finale of the show began with a Gripen solo, the machine featuring a 60th anniversary black fin and titling. To close the show, a massed flyby led by a vic-three of a Hercules, S102 Korpen (ELINT Gulfstream) and S100D AEW Argus followed by sixteen Gripens in loose finger-fours in landing configuration.

Boosting the 40,000+ crowd were a large number of foreign enthusiasts, many of which were treated to some superb hospitality in the spotters' facility. For the princely sum of zero Kronas (slightly more than zero £s) the spotter was allowed photographic access to the flightline ramps, given a huge enclosure on the display line with unrestricted taxiway views and food and drinks. That's the way to look after enthusiasts!!

With many thanks to Kent Loving and Catharina Bergsell, public information office.

 

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