History of the Saab 35 Draken

The Swedish aircraft manufacturer SAAB (Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget), founded in the late 1930’s, developed its first jet aircraft already in the late 1940’s. The swept-wing Saab 29 “Flygande Tunnan” flew its first flight in 1948 and the heavier Saab 32 “Lansen” in 1952. Both aircraft types were produced for the Swedish Air Force in hundreds, and the Tunnan-fighters were also operated by the Austrian Air Force.

The double-delta wing Saab 35 “Draken” fighter was developed to succeed the older Tunnan in the early 1950’s. The goal was to produce a fighter capable of intercepting bombers flying at an altitude of 10 000 meters, and at 1000 kilometers per hour (0,9 Mach). This required a top speed of at least 1600 kilometers per hour (Mach 1,5) and a good rate of climb. The first prototype of the Draken flew in 1955, and it was introduced to the Swedish Air Force in 1959. A total of 661 Drakens has been manufactured, and the aircraft has been in use in Sweden, Finland, Den-mark and Austria.

The last country to operate the Draken was Austria, where the aircraft flew its last flight in 2005.

Saab Draken in the Finnish Air Force

The Finnish Air Force modernized its fighter fleet in the early 1960’s.

The Finns evaluated the new Saab 35 Draken -fighter at the Saab factory in Linköping already in 1961, comparing it to the French Mirage IIIC -fighter. In February 1962, however – mere months after the defusion of the Finno-Soviet Note Crisis of 1961 – the Soviet Union declared an offer to sell modern MiG-21-fighters to Finland. Finland decided to choose the brand new soviet interceptor, without any test flights or even seeing the aircraft live.

The first 20 MiG-21-fighters were positioned in Rissala, under the Karelian Air Command. The Air Force prepared to modernize the fleet of its two other units as well, replacing the outdated English Folland Gnat -fighters. The export version (35XS) of the Draken was again taken into evaluation, alongside the MiG-21. In 1970, the Finnish Parliament agreed to order 12 Swedish fighters, as well as leasing six older (35B) fighters. The purchased fighters were assembled at the Valmet factory in Kuorevesi.

The Draken fighters, marked “DK”, were the first true all-weather fighter of the Finnish Air Force, and the first modern, Western fighters in Post-War Finland. The Draken deal meant that roughly half of the fighters of the Finnish Air Force came from the West and half from the East.

The Drakens flew, alongside the MiG-21’s, until the 1990’s, until being replaced by the current American F/A-18 Hornets. The Finnish Air Force had altogether 48 Drakens, of four different versions. The last Drakens of the Finnish Air Force flew in 2000.

SK 35C Draken SE-DXP

The Draken fighter of the Swedish Air Force Historic Flight (SwAFHF) was modified from a single-seat fighter (J 35A, 35019) into a two-seat SK 35C trainer (35810). It flew in the Swedish Air Force until 1997. The aircraft was handed over to the SwAFHF in 2001, and was made airworthy again in 2014.

The Finnish Air Force had five similar two-seat trainers in 1976 – 2000, which were purchased secondhand from Sweden.

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