40 years since the Saab 340 inaugural flight
January 25 1983 was a cold, crisp day as pilots Per Pellebergs and Eric Sjöberg sped down the runway in Tannefors, Sweden in what would become the benchmark regional turboprop. The first flight with the Saab 340 lasted one hour and 21 minutes and was uneventful. “We did all the planned tests. The aircraft maneuvered great, the engines- navigation- and communication systems all performed perfectly.” according to the pilots.
George Caracost, then working on the Saab 340 for Fairchild, was present in the crowd watching the takeoff. “ I brought my camera out to capture the moment, but was stopped by a guard” he recalls. The disappointment soon turned into jubilee though as the Saab 340 took to the sky and he waited in the cold until the aircraft landed some 80 minutes later.
George would move on to work for Saab in 1987 and still works within the Saab regional aircraft program. “The Saab 340 was a huge success. In the eighties and nineties it was the mainstay of US regional aviation. American Eagle had 115 aircraft, Mesaba 85 and Nortwest airlink 47.”
The Saab 340 broke new ground in many ways, introducing new technologies and bringing features normally found in much larger aircraft to a small regional turboprop. Using diffusion bonding, the need for rivets was greatly reduced, saving weight and increasing the strength of the fuselage. The pressure cabin was much better than any competitors in it’s class, enhancing passenger comfort. With the Saab 340 B+ in 1994, active noise canceling was introduced. A feature very few aircraft have, even today.
Launch customer was Crossair and Pope John Paul II was the first passenger to fly the Saab 340. He was very keen on learning more about the aircraft and spent the flight in the cockpit with the pilots. When it was time to land, none of the pilots felt they could order the Pope back to the cabin, so he remained in the cockpit.
The success story continues according to George. “Every available Saab 340 aircraft today is either in service or in transfer/modification to be in service. It really is the only viable aircraft with 30-35 seats which is sort of a sweet spot for many regional operators. The Saab 340 is still in high demand after 40 years, it is quite amazing”. Out of the 459 produced, more than 250 are still operative today with a current dispatch reliability of over 99%.
Fun facts Saab 340:
- Saab 340 aircraft have accumulated 16.7 million flight hours, or more than 1.900 years in the air.
- The individual Saab 340 with the highest number of flight hours has been in the air for more than seven years.
- The Saab 340 has carried 317 million passengers. That is the equivalent of carrying all residents of Germany, the UK, France, Italy and Canada combined.
- The average Saab 340 in service today has only reached half of it’s design life and can fly for many years to come.
- More than 450 flights/day are still being made in the Saab 340, or one every three minutes.