Canadair Sabre – Swords in the North   5 comments

Sabre Mk.1 seen at Alberta Aviation Museum, Edmonton, Canada in 2012

Sabre Mk.1 seen at Alberta Aviation Museum, Edmonton, Canada in 2012

The Sharpest of the Sabres

The North American F-86 Sabre, which first flew in 1947, is among the most legendary of post Second World War fighter aircraft. Heir to the equally storied P-51 Mustang fighter, the Sabre’s success in the Korean War easily put it in league with its forbear.

In 1948, the Royal Canadian Air Force selected the Sabre as its new fighter. Part of the deal was a license to produce the aircraft in Canada; production of the Canadian Sabres would be carried out by the Canadair company of Montreal and would total 1,815 airframes.

Initially, the plan was simply for Canadair to assemble Sabres to the American standard using components shipped from North American Aviation in California. By the time Sabre production at Canadair concluded in 1958; it was a unique machine with several differences to set it apart from American versions. Indeed, the final Mk.6 version of the Canadair Sabre is widely considered to be the best and most capable of any Sabre dog fighter variant built anywhere.

The Canadian chapter of the Sabre legend is a story in itself and worth looking at on its own to highlight its significance in the larger history of the type not only in RCAF service but also in relation to the role it played in the air defense of NATO nations in Europe during the early days of the Cold War.

Early Marks – Following the Plan

Canadair would produce six variations on the Sabre; the first of them, the Mk.1 and Mk.2 differed little from their American counterparts. The sole Mk.1 was built to the F-86A standard with parts provided by North American.

Canadair’s first major production version was the Mk.2. In keeping with the conditions of the license contract, this variant was built to an F-86E standard. A total of 350 Mk.2 aircraft were built between 1951 and 1952.

The RCAF squadrons equipped with the new Sabres were mostly deployed to support NATO forces in Europe and initially operated from bases in France, Germany and the UK. Significantly, the Canadair Sabres became the only swept wing fighter available to European NATO air forces through the early 1950s; a combination of the aircraft’s stunning performance and the proficiency of the RCAF pilots was a critical factor in the choice of several NATO air forces to select the type as their primary fighter during that time period.

Sabre Mk.1 at the Alberta Aviation Museum in 2012.

Sabre Mk.1 at the Alberta Aviation Museum in 2012.

Sixty Mk.2 Sabres were purchased by the U.S. Air Force due to a shortage of the type in the Korean War. These aircraft were delivered to California in early 1952 and deployed to Korea after some American specific modifications had been made to them.

The Middle Children – Mk.3 and Mk.4

As with the Mk.1, only a single example of the Sabre Mk.3 was constructed. The primary intent of the Mk.3 was to explore how the Sabre would function with the Canadian designed and built Orenda 3 engine. The intent to power the Sabre with a Canadian made engine had existed from the moment the license was granted to produce the type in Canada. The Mk.3 really was a proof of concept machine.

The Sabre required some internal modifications to accommodate the Orenda engine as it was slightly larger in diameter to the original General Electric unit; however, it was a successful marriage of aircraft to engine and laid the groundwork for the later Mk.5 and Mk.6.

Beyond proving the Orenda engine could work in the Sabre, it was also used to set some new speed records. Between May and June of 1953, with Jacqueline Cochrane at the controls, the Mk.3 Sabre was used to set a new speed record for women. While the Mk.3 was on loan to her, Cochrane also used it to become the first woman to break the sound barrier.

The hope of the Mk.3 was that the Orenda engine would be ready for the Mk.4 which entered production in 1952. However, the engine was not ready for service and the Mk.4 became very much and intermediary variant which retained the General Electric engine and, with the exception of some internal upgrades, was identical to the Mk.2.

The RCAF used some Mk.4 aircraft to fill the gap between the Mk.2 and Mk.5 while the Royal Air Force took the bulk of the Mk.4 production to replace the aging DeHavilland Vampire and Gloster Meteor fighters while waiting for the new Hawker Hunter and Supermarine Swift to enter service.

When their brief time in the RAF was finished, many of their Mk.4 Sabres were refurbished and found their way to other air forces, primarily Italy and Yugoslavia.

C-GSBR, a Mk.5 Sabre active on the Canadian civil register seen at Edmonton in 2012.

C-GSBR, a Mk.5 Sabre active on the Canadian civil register seen at Edmonton in 2012.

A Cut Above – Mk.5 and Mk.6

The Canadian Sabre truly came of age with the Mk.5 which debuted in 1953. powered by an Orenda 10 engine, the Mk.5 could reach 40,000 feet in half the time a Mk.2 could. Structurally, the Mk.5 required a strengthened rear fuselage to accommodate the larger engine; also, as it was optimized for high speed and high altitude missions, the Mk.5 was initially fitted with what was known as a “hard wing”. This meant that the wing lacked a movable slat on the wing leading edge that allowed for better low speed handling. Later, some Mk.5 aircraft were fitted with slats on the wings.

The Mk.5 quickly replaced remaining Mk.2 and Mk.4 Sabres in RCAF squadrons; as it did so, many of the older RCAF machines were refurbished and sold on to Greece and Turkey.

Late 1954 saw the first Mk.6 roll off the assembly line. This mark came to be seen by many as the ultimate dog fighter variation of the Sabre; with an Orenda 14 engine powering it, the Mk.6 had a significantly higher service ceiling than an American standard F-86F.

Most Mk.6 aircraft were built with slats on their wings; in conjunction with the power output of the Orenda 14, the combination of power and aerodynamics the Mk.6 possessed resulted in a machine of speed and maneuverability that was in a class by itself as far as day fighters of its era were concerned.

In 1956, West Germany reformed the Luftwaffe. By that time, the Sabre Mk.5 was well known and respected in the hands of Canadian pilots over the skies of West Germany and it was an easy decision for the Luftwaffe to choose the Mk.6 as the new fighter to equip its day fighter squadrons. An order was placed in December of 1956 for 225 factory fresh Mk.6 aircraft for the Luftwaffe.

In the meantime, the Luftwaffe was supplied with 75 ex RCAF Mk.5 Sabres so they could be trained on the Sabre while waiting for the Mk.6. The responsibility for training the Luftwaffe Sabre pilots would be carried out by the RCAF.

Back in Canada, the Mk.5 and later Mk.6 served as the mounts for the RCAF air demonstration team, the Golden Hawks, which existed from 1959 to 1964.

Mk.5 Sabre at Edmonton in 2012.

Mk.5 Sabre at Edmonton in 2012.

Further Afield

Canadian Sabres were popular and in demand beyond NATO users in both factory fresh and second hand forms. Other users of the Canadair Sabres included: Bangladesh, Colombia, Honduras, Pakistan and South Africa.

Argentina and Israel both ordered batches of Canadair Sabres, though both orders were cancelled before any aircraft were delivered.

Beyond the use of the Mk.2 Sabres which the U.S. Air Force purchased for use in Korea, the Canadian Sabre did see some combat in other areas of the world in its years of service.

In the late 1950s, a Yugoslavian air force Sabre shot down a Hungarian MiG-15 near the border between the two countries.

In 1963, five Sabres from the Italian air force were deployed to the Belgian Congo as part of UN peace keeping operations there.

Sabres of the Honduran air force, obtained from Yugoslavia in 1967, were used in the 1969 Soccer War between Honduras and El Salvador.

The Canadair Sabre also saw action with Pakistani pilots during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971. Many of these aircraft came from ex-Luftwaffe stocks purchased in 1966, after the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965.

Mk.5 Sabre at Edmonton in 2012.

Mk.5 Sabre at Edmonton in 2012.

Survivors and Learning More

Legendary machine that it is, the Sabre has done very well in retirement with many preserved in museums worldwide and many of those being Canadair built examples.

Of the several airworthy Sabres known, my research pointed to possibly 15 of them being Canadair Mk.5 or Mk.6 machines on Canadian, South African and U.S. registries. How many of those are regular flyers and how many are in storage is another matter.

The following links will take you to further reading about the Canadian Sabre story:

These two sites have some very good period information and photos of RCAF and Luftwaffe Sabres:–Teaching-the-New-Luftwaffe.aspx

This site will tell you all about C-GSBR, the Canadian based airworthy Mk.5:

For print based reference on the Canadair chapter of the Sabre story, though it is out of print and expensive when you find one, you’ll do no better than Larry Milberry’s exhaustive volume on the subject:

Yakovlev Yak-3 – Petit with a Punch   Leave a comment

A Yakovlev Yak-3M at Pardubice, Czech Republic in 2014

A Yakovlev Yak-3M at Pardubice, Czech Republic in 2014

Big Things from a Small Package

When the Yakovlev Yak-3 made its service debut in 1944, it was one of the smallest and lightest fighter types fielded by any combatant in the Second World War.

Below altitudes of 13,000 feet, where most air combat over the Eastern Front occured, the Yak-3’s small size and excellent power to weight ratio enabled its pilots to fly circles around the larger Messerschmidt Bf-109 and Focke-Wulf Fw-190 fighters which the Luftwaffe sent up to fight Soviet forces. The Yak-3 could out climb and out turn either of the German fighter types and there are many accounts of dogfights between units of Yak-3s and larger groups of German fighters in which the Luftwaffe came out distinctly on the losing end.

So devastating was the effect of the Yak-3 against German fighters in low altitude combat, that orders were issued to Luftwaffe pilots to avoid engaging the aircraft in combat below heights of 13,000 feet.

The Yak-3 was not only a menace to German forces in the air; with a 20mm cannon firing through the nose, it was also very effective against German armor and ground forces

Finding its niche as a low level tactical fighter and working as an effective companion piece to the larger Yak-9 and Lavochkin La-5 and La-7 fighters, the Yak-3 quickly proved that its small size was nothing to be taken lightly.

Let’s take a closer look at this bantamweight with a bite:

A Yak-3M at Pardubice in 2014.

A Yak-3M at Pardubice in 2014.

A Fortunate False Start

The Yak-3 which entered the history books could have been a very different aircraft had it not been for a false start in its development.

In summer of 1939, the Soviet government presented the Yakovlev design bureau with a specification for a new fighter. Yakovlev replied with two prototype aircraft known as I-26 and I-30. The I-26 was chosen as the basis for the new fighter and re-designated Yak-1. Development of the I-30, re-designated Yak-3, was discontinued in Autumn of 1941.

While the Yak-1 was a success, the pressures of war were driving attempts to improve it. 1943 saw the emergence of the Yak-1M variant, a downsized development of the Yak-1 design with significantly reduced weight, a more powerful engine and other revisions including large sections of the fuselage made of plywood construction.

Two Yak-1M aircraft were built and were given the Yak-3 designation. The new Yak-3 was an impressive aircraft from the start and production proceeded very rapidly after it entered service in 1944. It quickly replaced the earlier Yak-1 and Yak-7 fighters in many units.

This false start in the Yak-3’s story certainly allowed the aircraft to be more than it might have been had it developed directly from the I-30. It allowed the aircraft’s designers to incorporate many of the lessons learned from the Yak-1’s development and service and apply them to the aircraft that we recognise as the Yak-3 today.

A Yak-3M at Pardubice in 2014.

A Yak-3M at Pardubice in 2014.

Popular Appeal

The Yak-3 proved to be a very popular aircraft with those assigned to operate it. It was a ruggedly built aircraft which was neither difficult to fly nor to service.

As fast and maneuverable as it was, it also was known to be a forgiving aircraft. This made it popular not only with experienced fliers but also with novices.

For its size, the Yak-3 had a respectable armament of a 20mm cannon and two 12.7mm machine guns. All three guns were placed close together in the nose of the aircraft for a very effective concentration of fire against targets.

While popular, the aircraft was not without its flaws. Small size translated into short range, engine reliability issues were common, plywood sections of the fuselage occasionally separated when recovering from steep dives; additionally, the aircraft’s pneumatic system for operating the landing gear, wheel brakes and wing flaps was less than reliable.

These shortcomings were seen as reasonable trade offs given the aircraft’s excellent qualities as a fighter.

From a standpoint of popular culture, the Yak-3 is most closely associated with the Normandie-Niemen fighter group who operated the type between July of 1944 and May of 1945.

The Normandie-Niemen group was a highly decorated unit of the Free French Air Force which served alongside the Soviet military on the Eastern Front for the bulk of World War Two. Collectively, the pilots of the group scored nearly 100 aerial victories while equipped with the Yak-3.

A Yak-3M at Pardubice in 2014.

A Yak-3M at Pardubice in 2014.

Life After War

The Yak-3’s story did not end with the conclusion of the Second World War, the type saw post war service with France, Poland and the former Yugoslavia in the immediate post war period. The last Yak-3 left military service when the Yugoslav air force retired the type in 1950.

A radial engine powered version of the aircraft was in development during the war, but was not completed until after the end of hostilities. This variant was designated Yak-3U and while it did not enter production, the addition of a second seat turned it into the prototype for the Yak-11 trainer which would serve as the standard trainer for Soviet influenced countries through the 1950s.

In the 1990s, Yakovlev produced a small number of full scale flying Yak-3 replicas for the vintage warbird market. The replicas were built from original plans and utilised original construction jigs and tooling to build them. The major difference between the replica aircraft and originals is that an American built Allison engine powers the replicas as opposed to the originals’ Klimov engine. The replica aircraft were given the designation Yak-3M to differentiate them from the original line.

After their retirement, a number of Yak-11 trainers came into civilian ownership and were converted to single seat configuration. These sometimes appear at airshows and other flying events to represent the Yak-3.

A converted Let C-11, Czechoslovak built Yak-11, representing a Yak-3 at Pardubice in 2010.

A converted Let C-11, Czechoslovak built Yak-11, representing a Yak-3 at Pardubice in 2010.

Learning More

At least a few Yak-3 of the original 4,848 aircraft are preserved in museums, so there certainly are chances to get up close to the real thing.

This link will take you to the site of a company which operates a Yak-3M and several other vintage aircraft in Europe:

This link will take you to a lengthy but very interesting recollection of a Soviet fighter pilot in World War II who spent some time flying the Yak-3. While the aircraft is not the prime focus, it does get some mention:

The Bee that Didn’t Bumble   2 comments

A Z-37 Čmelák landing at Brno.

A Z-37 Čmelák landing at Brno.

While I’m putting together the next larger entry, here’s a picture and its story for your enjoyment:

On Wednesday this week, I had an unexpected free afternoon and decided to hop a bus out to Brno’s Tuřany airport to see what might be flying around. It turned out to be fairly quiet, but a bit entertaining too.

Mostly, it was just Cessna 150s and 172s coming in and out and a Piper 28 which did some passes over the runway but never did land while I was there.

There was a good crosswind in the area and it was easy to see how much the Cessna pilots had to work against it. Their wings were wobbling and most landings were of the one wheel on the runway with a wingtip pointed down sort.

By the looks of things, the crosswind was giving the Piper 28 pilot an even more difficult time. I never could figure out if he was simply practicing approaches with no intent to land or if he really did want to put the plane down but the crosswinds were making things that hairy for him.

In the midst of all this, the Z-37 Čmelák (Bumblebee) of the local flying club came in low and slow and set down on the runway in a deliberate and decisively solid manner that made the crosswind look like a complete non issue for it.

For the tossing around that the Cessnas and Piper were getting, the Bumblebee seemed to just thumb its nose at the wind and land as if it was the calmest of summer days.

As I waited at the bus stop for the ride back into the city, I watched the Piper wobbling in the distance and coming around for yet another approach to the runway.

I trust he made it down…..


Anatra DS Anasal – Reconnaissance and Revolution   Leave a comment

Anatra DS Anasal preserved at the National Technical Museum, Prague, Czech Republic in 2014

Anatra DS Anasal preserved at the National Technical Museum, Prague, Czech Republic in 2014

Early Eastern Wings

For their part in the First World War, pilots of the Russian Empire largely flew foreign designed aircraft. The Odessa based Anatra company, which existed from 1913 to 1918, started by producing aircraft from the Farman, Morane, Nieuport and Voisin companies under license. However, the company also produced aircraft of its own design.

The Anatra DS Anasal, which first flew in the summer of 1916, was developed as a replacement for the Anatra D Anade reconnaissance aircraft. The Anatra D, in spite of several design flaws, was taken into service in May of 1916.

The Anade was used as a starting point for the Anasal design, but many refinements were made to increase the strength and stability when creating the Anasal. A major change was the Anade fabric on frame fuselage being replaced by wood panel construction. This change was dictated largely by fitting the Anasal with a much more powerful engine than the one in the Anade.

The engine of the Anasal was a 150 horsepower Salmson radial design which unusually incorporated liquid cooling and the bulky radiator which that process involved. This configuration would appear to go against one of the major principles behind the radial engine; negating the weight penalties of liquid cooling in favour of using air flow around the engine to cool it. Some references indicate that this arrangement was unique; however, Salmson produced a series of liquid cooled radial engines between 1908 and 1920 which powered over 30 different aircraft types.

The Anasal was a definite improvement over the undependable Anade, not only in responsive flying qualities but also in trouble free maintenance and ground handling. It was considered an acceptable aircraft for its time period and role though inferior to the best British and German designs of the day.

While the Anasal had reconnaissance as its primary mission, it could also be used for light bombing. The aircraft could carry between 50 and 80 kilograms of bombs aloft and the observer could drop them manually from his station behind the pilot. For its own defense, the Anasal had a single forward firing Vickers machine gun for the pilot while the observer station could be fitted with a variety of machine gun types on a ring mount arrangement.

Anasal at Prague, 2014

Anasal at Prague, 2014

Uprising and Upheaval

1917 was year of tremendous change in Russia; Tsar Nicholas II was forced to abdicate and a short lived provisional government came to power. With the Bolshevik Revolution in Autumn of 1917, Russia was thrust into a state of civil war that would last until Autumn of 1922.

It was the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, signed in March of 1918, which saw the Anasal come into the service of non Russian forces. The treaty ceded significant Russian held land to the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey) and recognized Ukraine as an independent state.

With the Russian army largely collapsed and ineffective in Ukraine, German and Austro-Hungarian forces entered the country with ease and found a wealth of aircraft at the Anatra factory when they reached Odessa. Over 200 finished aircraft, including over 100 Anasals, were found stored in warehouses; in the factory itself, there were over 100 more Anasals in various states of completion.

Upon evaluation, the Anasal was not deemed suitable for work directly in battle though was seen as quite suitable for training purposes. This situation allowed aircraft factories in Austria-Hungary to concentrate all of their efforts on combat aircraft rather than building more trainers.

In the context of the Russian Civil War; both the White (anti-Bolshevik) and the Red (pro-Communist) sides of the conflict employed the Anasal. Further notable use of the Anasal in the conflict was made by Czechoslovak and Polish legions who fought on the White side of the war.

At the end of the First World War, Anasals had found their way to several parts of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire and were divided between the now independent Austria, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Austria and Czechoslovakia were equipped with around 20 aircraft each while Hungary had roughly half that number.

Between 1918 and 1920, Hungary saw a series of political revolutions and found itself engaging in hostilities against some of its neighboring nations. Notable among these was a brief battle in Spring of 1919 against Czechoslovakia in which the Anasals of both nations were involved.

Anasal at Prague, 2014

Anasal at Prague, 2014

What Remains and Learning More

Through the 1920s, many Anasals were used for educational purposes. Initially as flying trainers and later as ground maintenance trainers. Eventually, the bulk of them were retired and scrapped through the course of the decade.

Of the more than 350 Anasals built between 1917 and 1918, only one is known to remain in existance. It is kept in the collection of the National Technical Museum of the Czech Republic in Prague.

A full scale replica of an Anasal can be found in the collection of the State Aviation Museum of Ukraine in Zhulyany.

These links will take you to brief summaries of the Prague and Zhulyany aircraft respectively:

This link will take you to a lengthy article about the use of the Anasal, particularly in the Russian Civil War. It’s a bit difficult to follow in translated form, but informative all the same:

The End of an Era – The A-7 Corsair II Flies Into the History Books   7 comments

The Last Stronghold

October 17, 2014 will mark the retirement of the world’s last operational A-7 Corsair II strike aircraft. An aircraft which is seeing its final retirement just short of five decades of service worldwide and just under forty years with the type’s last remaining operator, Greece.

The A-7 served a total of four nations over its lifetime:

USA: 1967 – 1993

Portugal: 1981 – 1999

Thailand: 1995 – 2007

Greece: 1975 – 2014

The A-7 and Me

My own exposure to this particular aircraft has, to this point, been limited to two occasions.

In 1987, I saw one one refueling on the tarmac of the US Naval Air Station on Whidbey Island in Washington state. I had wanted to get closer to it, but it wasn’t possible due to the itinerary of the base tour I was on.

At an airshow in my native Canada in the early 1990s, I finally got a chance to get up close to an A-7 which was in the static park. It was a US Air National Guard machine from South Dakota and I was immediately struck by how solidly built the aircraft seemed from every angle.

Particularly memorable about the A-7 I saw at the airshow was that it was parked next to a Grumman A-6 Intruder from the US Navy. The history shared by these two types is immense and spans from the Vietnam conflict to the Persian Gulf war of the early 1990s.  I imagine if the two could be personified, they’d have been like a pair of near retired rugby thugs reminiscing about “Back then”.

Many have called the A-7 “Ugly”, I’ve never seen it as such. Its looks are purposeful for certain, but not ugly to my eyes.

Sadly, I will not be able to add the final retirement ceremony of the type to my short list of experiences with it.

Links and Learning More:

This is a ink to the A-7 retirement page, detailing what the day’s activities will be:

This is a documentary of about 45 minutes in length that details the A-7’s development, history and service; it was made when the aircraft was still active in the American military:

Keep the Winged Lion At Klarov!   Leave a comment


This article is about the relatively new memorial to the 2,500 Czechoslovak men and women who joined the ranks of the Royal Air Force in World War II and the ongoing wish of Prague City hall’s Heritage Department to move it to a less visible location in the city. I find it ironic, and not a little bit hypocritical, of a body called the “Heritage Department” taking this stance toward a monument dedicated to such an important aspect of the nation’s 20th century history.

Originally posted on Free Czechoslovak Air Force:

Free Czechoslovak Air Force Associates fights Prague Heritage Departments efforts to remove the Winged Lion

The controversy regarding the Winged Lion memorial location at Klarov, as detailed here and here, continues and is now again under threat because of Prague City Hall’s Heritage Department latest actions.

Spor ohledně umístění památníku Okřídleného lva na Klárově, popsaný zde a zde, pokračuje, a kvůli stanovisku odboru památkové péče Magistrátu hlavního města Prahy je opět v ohrožení.

“The MHMP-OPP’s (Prague City Hall’s Heritage Department) current stance on the Winged Lion Memorial is, we believe, bringing great dishonour to the valiant 2,500 Czechoslovak men and women who fought with the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. In our eyes, their eagerness to belittle these airmen by attacking the Winged Lion memorial is baffling at best. Perhaps if Mr. Skalicky had had the opportunity to meet the nine veterans and…

View original 340 more words

Posted October 9, 2014 by pickledwings in Uncategorized

Saab J-29 Tunnan – The Flying Barrel   8 comments

J-29F preserved at the Zeltweg Air Museum. Zeltweg, Austria, 2013

J-29F preserved at the Zeltweg Air Museum. Zeltweg, Austria, 2013

The Unassuming Equal

As the American F-86 Sabre and Soviet MiG-15 jet fighters tangled and became legends in the skies of the Korean War in the early 1950s, it is easy to overlook the fact that there was another jet fighter in service at the time which was equal in performance to both. That aircraft was the Saab J-29 Tunnan (Barrel) from Sweden.

Entering service in 1950, the J-29 never equaled it’s American and Soviet counterparts in production numbers or enjoyed their widespread popularity. However, in the truest spirit of “Quality over Quantity” the Tunnans which were built served their users well and earned the respect of those who were associated with it.

The smaller production quantities of the J-29 had more to do with Sweden’s, as a neutral nation, strict policies on who they would sell military gear to and Saab being so busy meeting Sweden’s own demand for the aircraft that they couldn’t possibly build any for anyone else than it did with any negative qualities the J-29 may have possessed.

If not equal to the F-86 and MiG-15 in fame and numbers; then certainly their equal in performance, technology and design. Let’s spend some time with the Saab J-29 Tunnan:

J-29F at the Zeltweg Air Museum in 2013.

J-29F at the Zeltweg Air Museum in 2013.

Finding “Modern”

Like any developed industrial nation in the immediate Post World War Two era, Sweden quickly recognised the requirement for a jet powered fighter aircraft to protect its territory. Like other developed nations, Sweden’s first steps into the jet age were tenuous ones which reflected war time design aspects.

The first jet powered fighter aircraft in Swedish service were the Saab J-21R, a piston powered design retrofitted with a jet engine, and the primative DeHavilland Vampire. neither were ideal and better had to be found.

This situation was not unique to Sweden, other western jet aircraft designs of the period such as the Gloster Meteor, DeHavilland Vampire and Supermarine Attacker from Great Britain as well as France’s Dassault MS.450 Ouragan and the Republic F-84 Thunderjet from America, which would equip many European NATO nations, were all decidedly unadventurous in their straight wing designs and hampered by the limitations of such wing designs.

Initially, the Tunnan was designed with straight wings. However, Saab engineers gained access to war time studies done by Germany into the value of swept wing designs and tested swept wings on a modified variant of their own model 91 Safir aircraft and adjusted the J-29’s wings accordingly as a result of those studies. The J-29 prototype took to the air for the first time in September of 1948 with swept wings and the Tunnan became one of the world’s first production swept wing aircraft.

Due to minimal experience with swept wing aircraft and their higher performance compared to straight wing types, the Tunnan had an initially high accident rate after entering service in 1950. This situation was not peculiar to Sweden, most early jet aircraft did not have dedicated two seat training variants made for them and accident rates for most early swept wing types were on the high side at first.

DeHavilland Ghost engine at Zeltweg Air Museum in 2013.

DeHavilland Ghost engine at Zeltweg Air Museum in 2013.

Of course, a modern aircraft requires a modern engine. In the case of the Tunnan, the DeHavilland Ghost engine was selected and produced in Sweden as the RM 2B by Svenska Flygmotor.

The J-29 was produced between 1950 and 1956, a total of 665 were built in five major versions:

Baseline fighter version built between 1951 and 1954.

J-29B / A-29B
Upgraded fighter introduced in 1953. It featured greater fuel capacity and accommodation for wing mounted weapons and fuel tanks. The A-29B designation was used for J-29B aircraft which served in dedicated attack units.

The dedicated reconnaissance version introduced in 1954. Changes included a redesigned forward fuselage housing cameras in place of the standard cannon armament.

A small number built in 1955. The E variant introduced a refined and more efficient wing design.

This designation denoted approximately 300 B and E versions which were modernised between 1954 and 1956 to include the E style wing and an afterburner equipped version of the Ghost engine. Remaining F models were modified to use the American designed Sidewinder air to air missile in the early 1960s.

A cutaway Ghost engine at the Zeltweg Air Museum in 2013.

A cutaway Ghost engine at the Zeltweg Air Museum in 2013.

The Tunnan on Duty

In service, the J-29 was used only by the air forces of Sweden and Austria. The last military flight of a Tunnan took place in Sweden in 1976.

Austria took the first of a total of thirty J-29F models into service in 1961 and retired the last in 1972. An interesting side note to the Austrian usage of the type was a reconnaissance variant peculiar to them. A handful of Austrian aircraft were ordered with a modification which allowed the two cannons on the left side of the nose to be replaced with a camera module, this was rather in contrast to the dedicated S-29C reconnaissance version used by the Swedes.

The closest the Tunnan ever got to combat was during the Congo Crisis of the early 1960s. From 1961 to 1963, a squadron of Swedish air force Tunnans wearing United Nations markings were deployed to the Republic of Congo and performed ground attack and reconnaissance missions.

The J-29 Today and Learning More

The Tunnan has done very well in retirement with several preserved in museums and one kept in flying condition by the Swedish Air Force Historic Flight.

The following link is to a pdf file of a 1950 magazine article that gives good insight into how the type was viewed early on:

These two links are to short pieces about the aircraft from Saab’s own website, the first is a general overview of the aircraft and the second is a summary of their use in Congo:

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