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Saab’s first supersonic aircraft is 70 years old

3 min read + Video

November 3 marks the 70th anniversary of the Saab 32 Lansen aircraft. The Lansen made history by being Sweden’s first supersonic aircraft. A total number of 455 were produced, and the Lansen remained in operational use by the Swedish Air Force until 1997.

In the shadow of the Cold War, the 32 Lansen fighter aircraft was developed by Saab in Linköping, in the early 1950s. The first flight took place on 3 November 1952, with test pilot Bengt Olow at the controls.

The flight marked the beginning of a test programme that would include the first supersonic flight by a Swedish aircraft. This took place in 1953, when the Lansen passed the so-called ‘sound barrier’ for the first time – i.e. the speed exceeded the speed of sound (around 1,200 km/h).

The Lansen had a two-man crew, comprising a pilot and navigator. It was initially developed as an attack aircraft, but versions were also produced for use as fighter aircraft and reconnaissance aircraft.

Over a 20-year period, the Lansen formed the backbone of Sweden’s attack aircraft, the main purpose of which was to repel any potential invasion force. In early 1956, the A 32A Lansen attack version was delivered to air wings in southern Sweden: F 6 in Karlsborg, F 7 in Såtenäs, F 14 in Halmstad and F 17 in Ronneby. During the 1960s, the Lansen was also supplied to F 15 in Söderhamn. The final aircraft were decommissioned in 1978, to be replaced by the Viggen.

The J 32B Lansen fighter version had a more powerful engine and was equipped with radar, which enabled it to detect hostile aircraft both in bad weather and in the dark. In 1958-59, this version was based at the F 1 air wing in Västerås and F 12 in Kalmar. During the 1960s, they were transferred to F 4 on Frösön and F 21 in Luleå, in order to be used in the air defence of northern Sweden. They remained in service until the early 1970s.

The S 32C reconnaissance version was equipped with aerial surveillance cameras, and had a radar that was optimised for the detection of ships during maritime reconnaissance missions. During the period 1958-78, these were flown by the F 11 air wing in Nyköping, often on operational reconnaissance missions over the Baltic Sea.

At the end of its time as a front-line fighter aircraft, a smaller number of Lansen were equipped with electronic warfare equipment. These were used until 1997 as target-tugs in the Air Force’s regular combat exercises.

Today, there are several Lansen preserved in aviation museums in Sweden and abroad. Two Lansen have been kept in airworthy condition, which are based in Såtenäs and are a popular feature at air shows around Sweden.