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Sätenas stars #1

Getting a Gripen

Gary Parsons reviews the Swedish Air Force's 80th anniversary airshow, held over 16-18 June. Photography by the author unless stated otherwise.

Imagine, if you will, a display line as distant as Farnborough, the runway just as far and looking into the sun all day - that was the challenge at Sätenas (pronounced Sert-en-as) to the committed aviation photographer for this year's Swedish Air Force presentation to the public. Held on a blisteringly hot Friday 16th and pleasantly breezy but sunny Sunday 18th, it was unusual in Saturday being a 'day off', primarily so the event didn't clash with the Volvo Ocean race, which entered nearby Gothenburg on the day.

Sätenas stars #2
Sätenas statics

Also competing for attention the same weekend was the Dutch Air Force's Open Dagen at Leeuwarden and the attraction of the Blue Angels, but it had been hoped that the 80th birthday celebrations at Sätenas would have attracted a bulging international line-up, but it was not to be - the static parks were very thin, bolstered by withdrawn Swedish types such as the J29 Tunnen, J32 Lansen and J35 Draken. Finland provided a pair of F-18C Hornets, one for the flying display, with near neighbours Denmark and Norway sending F-16s; Hungary had a MiG-29 tucked away in the static and Switzerland provided its PC-9 formation team. But that was it - apart from the civilian Breitling L-39 team, it was left to the home team to complete the airshow, but even then significant gaps in the Swedish armoury were missing - Tp102 (Gulfstream) and Hkp4 (Kawasaki-built CH-46) being the most notable absentees. Operating a one-make fighter force doesn't help, but at least there were plenty of JAS39 Gripens to be found, Sätenas being the home to F7 'Skaraborg' wing and also the main training base for Swedish pilots and international customers, such as the Czech Air Force, which had a single aircraft on display.

But, for most enthusiasts, it wasn't the modern hardware that was the main attraction, it was the Swedish Air Force's historic collection of post-war jets, all kept in airworthy condition and flown with great vigour by their pilots (see Aircraft Illustrated magazine July 2006).

Commencing with the Vampire, all the major post-war jets operated by the Swedish Air Force took to the air in a two-hour spell at lunchtime, providing some wonderful contrasts to today's purposeful Gripen. From the J29 Tunnen's gas-light afterburner to the J37 Viggen's brute force, it was a glorious testament to the vision of the Air Force that it should endeavour to keep its past alive and breathing fire. Sandwiched between vintage aircraft and the modern-day air force, the veteran jets certainly held their own, being thrown around the sky to the full - the J35 Draken was particularly spectacular, the cone from the afterburner as long as the aircraft itself and quite visible despite the clear blue sky.

Strictly speaking the Viggen wasn't part of the Heritage Flight, as its single-seat example is still undergoing maintenance - the Sk37E demonstrated at Sätenas, 37813, is one of two left operational with the FMV at Malmslätt, flying with the Försökscentralen (Test Centre). With the withdrawal of the Viggen from front-line service earlier this year, the Sk37s at Malmslätt will have a short time left, but hopefully by next year the Historic Flight's AJ37 will be back into 'service'.

The afternoon consisted of demonstrations by today's air force, including Team 60's Saab 105s and a four-ship Gripen routine that reminded some of the older members of the crowd of the 'Acro Deltas' Draken team of the sixties and early seventies. Swedish military airshows always end with a massed flypast, so the crowd was treated to the thunder of seventeen Gripens taking off, although only twelve appeared in the formation together with Team 60 and four C-130Hs.

Sätenas is home to the Swedish Air Force's fleet of eight Hercules, which looked nervously across to the lone American participation at the airshow, that of a C-17A Globemaster III - the Swedish government is considering purchasing two as possible replacement for part of the Hercules fleet, but opinion is divided as it may mean one airbase being sacrificed in order to fund the four billion SEK deal, Sätenas being one of the bases at risk. In a Spring 2006 budget proposal the Swedish Air Force identified the need for a strategic airlift capability for use with the EU Nordic Battle Group, intended for rapid deployment alert from 1 January 2008, thereby necessitating a rapid decision.

In summary, compared to RIAT Sätenas would be a disappointment - but, as an opportunity to experience different types in a pleasant setting, a Swedish airshow is certainly worth a visit at least once in an enthusiast's lifetime. Always free entry, the Swedes are keen to showcase their impressive military might and are friendly hosts with an admirable grasp of the English language. Now, we just need to get those historic jets across the water for a UK show…!

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