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The Saab 35 Supersonic Fighter Was Built to Battle Russia in the Sky

Saab 35
Saab 35. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

The Saab 35 might not be as well known as say the F-22 or B-2 but was built with a clear purpose in mind – and a very different design: Following the Second World War, Sweden maintained a policy of neutrality – yet at the same time expected that if war came it would most likely be against the Soviet Union. The Swedish Air Force has foreseen the need for a jet fighter that could intercept bombers at high altitudes yet also be able to engage fighters.

The development of such an interceptor began soon after the Second World War, and it was a radical leap forward in aviation technology. Engineers at Saab had a radical idea for a new all-weather supersonic jet fighter, which was to become the Saab 35 Draken.

Aircraft engineer Erik Bratt, along with a team of more than 500 technicians, had arrived at the idea of a unique “double delta” wing shape after studying different ways of packaging the fuel and equipment. It was a radical design, and the Draken – which translates to “dragon” but was actually meant as “kite” for the shape of the wings – was the first aircraft to successfully employ the double delta wing design. Recognizable as the large, triangle-shaped wings that are widest at the rear and taper inwards closer to the nose of the plane, these offer numerous benefits.

The first is that delta wings have more internal volume for fuel than conventional wings, and can also be structurally stronger. The tradeoff is higher amounts of drag compared to typical swept-wing aircraft.

For Bratt and his team, the double delta design appeared promising, and after three years of intensive design study, the Saab-210 – a sub-scale test aircraft that was unofficially nicknamed “Lilldraken” or “little kite” – was first flown in 1952 to pioneer Saab’s still-unique double-delta wing form. Such scale prototypes were needed in the era before computer-aided design (CAD) and advanced flight simulations.’

Inventing the Cobra Maneuver

The first Saab-35A prototype finally took to the skies on October 25, 1955, and the J35A’s became the early production model. Because of the then-historically unproven tailless design, the aircraft experienced a number of problems at the start of its service life – including a number of super stalls.

However, pilots were trained to prevent that from happening, and out of the extensive pilot training came what is known as a “cobra maneuver,” where the plane flying at a moderate speed can abruptly raise its nose to a vertical and slightly past vertical attitude, momentarily stalling the plane, before making a full-body air brake and then dropping back to normal position.

It is now considered to be one of the most dramatic and demanding maneuvers but is typically only performed at air shows.

Countering the Soviets

During the Cold War, the Saab 35 proved to be an effective supersonic interceptor and capable dogfighter. It was one of the first Western European-built combat aircraft to exceed Mach 2 in level flight. The aircraft was adopted by the Swedish Air Force and was later exported to Finland, Austria, and Denmark.

The aircraft went through a series of upgrades, and in total 651 were produced. The final Saab 35 Draken, in service with the Austrian Air Force, was only retired in 2005 – a testament to its effective design and capabilities. While the aircraft never saw actual combat, it would have likely performed well in its interceptor role against Soviet bombers and more than held its own against the Soviet fighters of the era.

Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.

Written By

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com. Suciu is also a contributing writer for Forbes Magazine.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Tehe

    April 25, 2022 at 8:42 am

    Do they just let anyone right sh*t on the news these days ?

    This jet literally has no recorded combat victories

    “tHis jEt wAs mAde to fIghT thE rUssIans”

    Yeah buddy where they at then

  2. Ian St. John

    April 29, 2022 at 4:27 pm

    Tehe is the kind of guy that would tap on the nose of an H-Bomb just to prove it ‘worked’.

    The Saab 35 was capable enough that the russians didn’t want to do that. That is what counts.

    And the later 39E/F Grippen has shown itself to be the later day version of the Leopard/Sherman tank. The Leopard was clearly superior but who could afford to build an run more than a few? While the Sherman was EVERYWHERE. Same here between the F35 and Gripen E. The Gripen costs less than a fifth as much per flight hour and has a LOT less downtime. The stealth coating and beyond the horizon missiles of the F35 count for less and less as radar tech improves and countermeasures keep evolving. If radar cross section was everything, we would be using the F22 (with one tenth the cross section of an F35).

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