Gary Parsons reports on Sweden's recent mini-invasion of Jersey, some 1,100 years after their Norwegian and Danish counterparts. Photography by the author and Andrew Hare
Jersey has a very interesting history. Constantly a source of debate between the English and the French for many centuries, in the middle ages it was occupied by the Vikings, much as most of the British Isles and the coasts of France and Spain. These Vikings were from Norway and Denmark, Swedish Vikings setting out across the Baltic Sea into Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Russia.
The islands came under the control of Rollo (c.860 - c.932), who was the founder and first ruler of the Viking principality that became known as Normandy when, in 911, Rollo took control of Caen. In 933 Rollo's son, William Longsword, added the islands to the Dukedom of Normandy and the inhabitants of Jersey have been answerable only to the Duke of Normandy and his successors, the British sovereign. When Guillaume le b'tard, Duke of Normandy, conquered England in 1066 at the Battle of Hastings, Jerseymen were part of those forces!
In 2006 it was finally the turn of the Swedes to invade, albeit in a friendly way as the Swedish Air Force sent its historic J-29 Tunnan and the Eskilstuna Flygplats Museum its ex-Swiss Air Force Vampire. The Tunnan was a particular delight, as it is the first time that it has ventured away from Sweden since its re-build and is the first time in many a long year that a J-29 has appeared at a British airshow. Completing the Scandinavian theme was Anders Saether's Historic Flight from Halmstad, Sweden, returning with its A-26 Invader and P-51D Mustang.
The J-29 Tunnan ('barrel') was SAAB's first real jet fighter, following the interim converted J21R that replaced the original push-propeller engine with a De Havilland Goblin III jet engine. Designed using German technology immediately after the Second World War and equipped with the later 'Ghost' engine, the J-29 made its first flight 1 September 1948, with British test pilot Robert Moore at the controls. The first delivery was made to the Swedish Air Force in 1951, where it served in many variants until the late 1960s. It has the distinction of being the only Swedish jet fighter to engage in combat, when Catangese rebel positions in the Congo were strafed in the 1960s. 661 Tunnans were built, with some 230 crashing due to the aggressive training routine and harsh environment.
The first production version was the J-29A, with a total of 224 being built - this was followed by the J-29B, which was fitted with extra fuel tanks in the wings, increasing its fuel capacity by fifty percent. It also was fitted with stores pylons for bombs and rockets, allowing it to be used in the attack role. Following this was the S-29C, a reconnaissance version featuring a modified nose, with a flat bottom and straight sides, accommodating five cameras of various sorts.
Other work proceeded in parallel, focussing on improving the Tunnan's performance. Svensak Flygmotor developed an afterburning version of the Ghost turbojet, with 6,175 pounds afterburning thrust. In addition, SAAB engineers were refining the wing design to improve the aircraft critical Mach number, resulting in a new wing with a 'dogtooth' leading edge. This wing was used on a new Tunnan variant, the J-29E, with 29 J-29Es built. The new wing was also refitted to S-29C reconnaissance aircraft, with no change in designation.
The last variant was the J-29F, which featured the afterburning Ghost engine, the dogtooth wing and the capability to carry a pair of US-designed AIM-9B Sidewinder heat-seeking air-to-air missiles, built by SAAB under license as the 'Rb-24'. All J-29Fs were updates of existing Tunnan fighter airframes, no new ones being constructed.
SE-DXB (c/n 29670) was delivered to F9 in April 1955 as a J-29E and modified to 'F standard in 1956. Its last flight with the Swedish Air Force as a front-line fighter took place on 30 July 1968 after 1,195 total flying hours. In 1970 the aircraft was transferred to the Swedish Air Force museum in Malmslaett and stored in a hangar for some twenty years. On 12 July 1991 retired Brigadier General Bertil Bjaere and two other members of F10 visited the museum to see if a J-29 could be refurbished to flying condition. On inspection 29670 was returned to Ängelholm on 8 May 1991 for the work to begin. The fully rebuilt fighter took to the air again on 11 July 1995, nick-named 'Yellow Rudolf'. It has been registered as SE-DXB on the Swedish civilian register that enables it to operate more easily overseas.
Accompanying the J-29 was another veteran jet fighter from the same era, Vampire SE-DXT. Originally a Swiss Air Force machine, SE-DXT was sold at auction in Dubendorf on 23 March 1991, going to the Eskilstuna Flygplats Museum on 25 October of that year. The De Havilland DH 100 Vampire was the first jet aircraft in the Swedish Air Force, intended as a stop-gap measure until the J-29A was fully developed. Deliveries from the UK began in June 1946, with seventy Vampire F1s (designated J-28) ferried to Sweden by Flygvapnet pilots. No original Swedish Vampires exist today, hence the need for the museum to procure one from Switzerland on the type's retirement from the Swiss Air Force.
Other historic jets flying in Jersey's 2006 airshow were Gnat T1 G-RORI and Hunter T8B G-BZSE, the two pilots performing a gentle tail-chase. Modern jet action was disappointingly in short supply, with just a Belgian Air Force F-16AM and RAF Harrier to provide the noise, although one should also include the Belgian Air Force Magister, making it's last official appearance at Jersey. No doubt it won't be long before one of the 'Red Devils' painted machines appears on the civilian register, so we won't say we won't ever see one again! With no Tornado or Typhoon, RAF participation was lacking compared to previous years, a strange anomaly as Jersey is one of the RAFA's main providers in charity donations. Hopefully the situation will be addressed next year and a full line-up of the RAF's front-line is on show above St Aubin's Bay.
A wonderful setting for the airshow, St Aubin's Bay is the central part of Jersey's south coast, having a long sweep of unbroken soft, golden sandy beach from St Helier harbour to St Aubin's harbour. Only the highest of tides covers the beach - south facing, it is in full sun along virtually its entire length from sunrise to sunset, being very sheltered from prevailing westerly and easterly winds. Dominating the backdrop is Elizabeth Castle, named after the queen by Sir Walter Raleigh when he was governor, which was constructed in 1593 to counter the threat of the Spanish and the French.
the bay and castle form the backdrop for the flying display, the aviation
enthusiasts of Jersey prefer to spend their time at the airport, where
the aircraft for both Jersey and Guernsey's displays spend most of their
time. The States of Jersey's airport opened in 1937 with four grass runways,
the longest being 2,940 feet with a concrete centreline. Concrete taxiways
were added during the Second World War occupation by the Luftwaffe, which
also built hangars, one of which is still in existence across the road
from the present flying club site. In 1952 a 4,200 feet tarmac runway
was opened and the grass strips closed. The runway has been lengthened
several times over the years, reaching its current length in 1976. The
original 1937 terminal was extended in 1976 and again in 1997. With the
helpful co-operation of the airport authority,
the public can view the aircraft over three days from Wednesday to Friday
with bus tours operating across the live aprons. Many of the pilots take
the opportunity to sign autographs and, as it never gets too crowded,
a relaxed atmosphere pervades.
While the warm September sun ensured 2006 was a year to enjoy, a stiff cross-wind prevented the Battle of Britain Flight from taking off on the day. Let's hope next year's airshow on Thursday 13th brings a return for some 'heavy metal' - maybe, just maybe, that big tin triangle we mentioned last year…