GEAR & TECH

This Swedish fighter was decades ahead of its time

Sweden asserted its neutrality during the Cold War. Still, Stockholm was not going to let the country stand helpless in face of potential threats.


That's why the Swedish Air Force had some fighters that were very capable – and perhaps the first of three that would be every bit as good as their contemporaries serving in NATO was the Saab J 35 Draken.

The Draken was a Mach 2-capable fighter equipped with a "double-delta" wing — a design rarely used in modern fighter construction. One of the only other planes to use it was the F-16XL, a prototype version of the F-16 that lost out in a competition with what became the F-15E Strike Eagle.

A Saab J35 Draken taxis on the runway. (Youtube screenshot)

Sweden used the Draken as an interceptor. According to MilitaryFactory.com, the plane was armed with two 30mm Aden cannon and four Sidewinders (known to the Swedes as the Rb 24), the Draken ended up being exported to Denmark, Finland, and Austria. Improved versions of the Draken would eventually be able to carry up to six missiles, and add the capability to fire the AIM-4 Falcon and AIM-26 Falcon.

Ironically, the Danes used the Draken as a strike plane. The plane's hardpoints were modified to allow them to drop 1,000 pound bombs. Six of the Danish Drakens found their way to the National Test Pilot School in the United States, where they served until 2009.

A Saab J35 Draken while in service at the National Test Pilot School. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Draken did emerge as a bit of a Hollywood star in at least one movie. The 1990 action flick "Fire Birds" saw at least two Drakens serve as fighters under the control of a drug cartel. One was shot down by an Apache flown by Brad Little (played by eventual Academy Award-winner Tommy Lee Jones), the other was shot down by a hand-held FIM-92 Stinger used by Billie Lee Guthrie (played by Sean Young).

In real life, the Royal Swedish Air Force flew the Draken for nearly four decades, retiring it in 1999 due to maintenance costs. The plane had only been partially replaced by the AS 37 and JA 37 versions of the Saab Viggen, and the replacement was completed with the JAS 39 Gripen, also from Saab. Not a bad career for a plane.

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