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Saab’s firefighting aircraft, type AT-802F FireBoss as a postage stamp.

Saab’s firefighting aircraft commemorated on postage stamp

6 min read + Video

Thanks to Saab’s four firefighting aircraft, Sweden has strengthened its ability to combat forest fires in difficult terrain. PostNord is now commemorating these efforts with a new stamp. “It’s a true honour,” says Jörgen Ericsson, the Saab photographer who took the picture used on the stamp.

The 5th of May 2020 was actually a fairly ordinary day at work for Jörgen Ericsson at Saab. He was on a small boat in a bay outside Nyköping and struggled to keep the camera still on the bobbing waves. He was on a two-day assignment to photograph and document Saab’s firefighting aircraft, type AT-802F FireBoss, as the pilots practised scooping up and dropping water over the bay.
“One challenge when taking photos from a boat is that everything is moving all the time, and, with the long zoom lenses we use, it’s quite tricky to keep the aircraft in the camera’s focus,” he says.
One of the approximately 1,300 pictures taken during the two days has now been selected to become a stamp and has been processed by Lars Sjööblom and Daniel Bjugård for PostNord.

“One challenge when taking photos from a boat is that everything is moving all the time, and, with the long zoom lenses we use, it’s quite tricky to keep the aircraft in the camera’s focus,”
Saab’s firefighting aircraft, type AT-802F FireBoss, dropping water.

In order to get really cool pictures, Jörgen had agreed with the pilot to fly directly over the boat and drop the water.

“The pilot could not drop all the water at once and had to do so at the lowest possible drop speed, otherwise we would’ve been soaked,” explains Jörgen. “It was a matter of shooting quickly when the water was released over the boat, and then getting out of the way to try to protect the camera from all the water.”

Saab’s firefighting aircraft, type AT-802F FireBoss, dropping water.

Saab’s aerial firefighting commemorated on stamp

Despite the challenging circumstances during the photo shoot, a multitude of high-quality images were taken along with a video describing how Saab carries out aerial firefighting.

And soon the whole of Sweden will be able to see the results of Jörgen’s photography assignment. One of the images from the collection will become a postage stamp and is part of PostNord’s stamp programme, which will be released on 26 August.

Saab aerial firefighting aircraft as a stamp.

“It’s a real honour that PostNord contacted us to commemorate the efforts being undertaken to combat forest fires from the air,” says Jörgen. “They had searched through Saab’s online image bank and found my photo.”

Quick deployment to fight threatening fires

Saab’s aerial firefighting forms part of Sweden’s civil protection efforts. Saab now provides the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) with four aircraft and crews, which can be quickly deployed to strengthen Sweden’s capability to combat forest fires from the air. In often involves firefighting in remote areas and difficult terrain.

So far this year, Saab has been deployed on eleven missions. Last year, the aircraft assisted in fighting five fires.

“Since we are also part of the EU civil protection mechanism, our aircraft can be deployed throughout Europe, as was the case when we helped fight the recent fires in Greece, although the focus is on our closest neighbours here in northern Europe,” says Jörgen. “Two of the aircraft were commissioned in 2020, and now in the summer of 2021 the fleet has been expanded to four aircraft.”

Saab started building up its firefighting operations even before there was procurement and a contract with MSB.

We saw that we could use our great expertise in the field of aviation field to build a business that would be beneficial for Sweden. We therefore purchased the aircraft, trained pilots and built up the support organisation required for the operation.

Capable of releasing 50,000 litres of water an hour

The specialised firefighting aircraft are worthy of their own story. They are called Air Tractors due to their reliability and unique ability to carry almost as much weight as they themselves weigh.

With 1,600 horsepower, they fly at up to 300 kilometres per hour, allowing them to quickly make their way back and forth between the fire and the location where they fill up on water. Thanks to their speed, Saab’s firefighting aircraft have the capacity to release up to 50,000 litres of water per hour.

When the aircraft fill up, they usually descend on a lake as close to the fire as possible. The pilot slows down to around 115 kilometres per hour, lands on the lake and, in 15 seconds, scoops up water to fill the aircraft’s 3,000 litre tanks.

The aircraft jumps up like an express elevator

Dropping water is an art form that the pilot must master. Sometimes the water needs to be released slowly over a span of 800 metres, and sometimes the entire 3-tonne load of water must all be dropped at once in a concentrated water bomb.

And this can be a challenge for a photographer trying to document the procedure.

“When the pilot releases the water, the aircraft loses almost half its weight and jumps up like an express elevator,” says Jörgen. “It also shakes a lot when you bounce on the water surface to fill the tanks and flying two metres above the treetops is an impressive feat, and you realise how skilled the pilots are.”

G-forces a challenge for the photographer

Since he joined Saab as a communications officer just over six years ago, Jörgen’s job has increasingly involved photographing aircraft, both from the ground and from the air – or Air-to-Air as it is called.

“Sitting in an Air Tractor and taking pictures is a completely different feeling compared to flying in a Gripen aircraft. In Gripen, the flight itself is usually very smooth, but the g-forces and roll rate are much greater. Since everything moves so fast, it’s important to be well prepared and have good communication with the pilot. You only get one chance to take the perfect photo.”

What does it take to be a good aircraft photographer?

“A lot of preparation. And thinking it all through before the flight itself. In addition, it’s important to have full control of the equipment. For example, I use presets in the camera. It’s not possible to make adjustments and tinker in the air.

“Often there are also very particular lighting conditions. As a photographer you usually want plenty of light, but up in the air there really is an abundance of light. Plus, it’s also difficult to get a good picture when there’s a lot of glare.”

Saab’s aerial firefighting operations

• Since 2021, Saab has provided four AT-802F FireBoss firefighting aircraft to the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB). The aircraft are also part of the EU civil protection mechanism.
• The service includes a crew of ten specially trained pilots and the management and maintenance of operations with an ops centre based in Nyköping.
• The aircraft can fly at 300 km/h, can hold 3,000 litres of water, and have the capacity to release up to 50,000 litres of water per hour over forest fires.

About the photographer

Aerial photographer Jörgen Ericsson in front of a Gripen jet fighter.

Name: Jörgen Ericsson.
Age: 51
Occupation: Communications Officer and aircraft photographer at Saab since 2014.
The best thing about working at Saab: The opportunity to continuously develop and try new things in a high-tech business.

Photos I’m most proud of

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Most beautiful: An example of how even when you are prepared and have planned a flight you never know when the opportunity will arise. After filming a test over the Baltic Sea, we were on our way back to Linköping when we passed over the inlet of Slätbaken. I suddenly saw that the dramatic clouds were reflected in the mirror-calm water and got a shot in which the hard angles of Gripen contrast beautifully with the rolling summer landscape.
Gripen flying with an 3-D printed hatch.
Most technically difficult: After photographing and filming a Gripen flight with a 3D-printed hatch (visible in white on the right side of the rear section), I asked the pilot to practice photographing the target from directly above. We then did a barrel role over the other aircraft and took pictures straight down while sitting upside down. It’s not easy keeping the aircraft in the viewfinder and holding the camera steady so you don’t end up with a shaky picture.
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Example of a photo that turned out exactly as planned: I wanted a photo in which you could see the horizon, the aircraft was at angle where the wing/stabiliser did not obscure the cockpit or the Saab logo, the aircraft was sharp but the propeller had motion blur, and the water drop was so massive that it was not transparent. After planning with the pilot and a few attempts, we found an angle and a distance that worked. Then it was a matter of snapping the picture in the tenth of a second where everything was just right.