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Canopy maintenance explained

2 min read + Video

The canopy on the fighter aircraft Gripen protects the pilot during flight and is made of polyurethane, a type of plastic. The plastic suffers wear and tear and becomes scratched over time, which, considering the pressure changes the canopy is subjected to, can lead to major damage and large cracks. In turn, this would jeopardise the safety of the pilot in the air.

Erik Widerstedt is a maintenance technician at Saab and his work involves grinding and polishing Gripen canopies:

“It’s my job to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

When a Gripen canopy arrives at the Saab maintenance workshop where Erik works, the first step is to evaluate the damage and determine whether the canopy can be restored by abrasive polishing or whether it needs to be replaced. The time it takes to restore a canopy depends on the extent of the damage. Major damage, often caused during aerial refuelling, can take Erik up to 150 hours to polish smooth.

"It may feel like nothing is happening when the damage still looks the same after 80 hours of grinding."

“In this job, you need to have an eye for detail and, above all, patience, because the work is a slow process. It may feel like nothing is happening when the damage still looks the same after 80 hours of grinding. It takes time because I have to polish smooth such a small amount of material each time.”

The final step is to inspect the damage using a magnifying glass. If the scratch is completely gone, the canopy can be refitted to the aircraft and the pilot can continue to work safely.