The Saab J29 Tunnan proved to be not only a very capable and agile fighter, but also proved very durable in sorties.
In the ranking released by Global Firepower, the Swedish Air Force holds the 47th position in the world and tops Scandinavian Peninsula.
Unlike many countries, the strength of the Swedish Air Force is created entirely by domestic fighters whose strength is not inferior to that of Russian or Western products. In the family of Swedish fighters must mention Saab 29 Tunnan, the first truly successful fighter jet made by Sweden itself. This is not only Sweden’s first swept-wing fighter to be mass-produced, but also Europe’s first true fighter.
As early as the 1940s, the engineers of the primary Swedish aviation company, SAAB, realized that jet power was the way of the future for combat aircraft. However, Axis and Allied jet development efforts were largely secret, and the Swedes had little knowledge of the technology. They worked hard to catch up.
By the fall of 1945, they were able to get their hands on the British de Havilland Goblin centrifugal-flow turbojet engine, quickly arranging to manufacture it under license.
After world war 2, Saab obtained access to German studies involving swept wings and their positive effects in regards to speed in Switzerland, and as a result, the J 29 Tunnan came to be similar to the German Luftwaffe’s Messerschmitt Me P1101 project. The aircraft was officially introduced in 1951.
Until retirement in 1976 a total of 661 aircraft were produced, making it the largest production run for any Saab aircraft. It also served with the Austrian Air Force with 30 units in service until 1973.
Tunnan means The Barrel, often referred to as Flygande Tunnan, The Flying Barrel.
Visually, it was a small, chubby aircraft featuring a thin 25 degrees swept back mid-mounted wing, having a single tail and a single engine, featuring the design similar to most of the first generation jet fighters: a single engine with a central straight-through airflow system that maximized thrust.
The overall size of the jet is 10.23 meters long, wingspan 11 meters, height 3.75 meters and wing area is 24.15 square meters. The empty weight and the maximum takeoff weight are 4.8 tons and 8.4 tons respectively.
An integral single central air intake forming the aircraft’s nose, the pilot being housed within a bubble canopy located directly above the air intake on the upper-forward section of the fuselage. The canopy was opened by sliding backwards, allowing the pilot to access and exit.
The design also took advantage of the already existing ejector seat developed in 1943 by Saab, complemented by an explosive jettison system to remove the canopy in case of ejection. The tail of the aircraft placed above and behind the engine exhaust nozzle, it consists of a vertical stabilizer with tapered edge and the horizontal stabilizer is mounted practically at the base of the tail.
The tricycle configuration undercarriage was hydraulically retracted during flight and was designed to be suitable for landing upon rough grass airstrips.
The Tunnan was equipped with a single de Havilland Ghost turbojet engine, producing 5000 pounds of thrust. This engine was deemed suitable for the fuselage of the Tunnan, replacing the originally planned DeHavilland Goblin, and had the advantage of making maintenance easy with the engine cowling able to be removed as a single piece.
The engine, along with its aerodynamic characteristics, made of the Tunnan a fast fighter. Once in service the Tunnan broke many records. It set a world speed record on a 500 km closed circuit as it reached a speed of 977 km/h in 1954. The reconnaissance version set also a record of 900.6 km/h in a closed circuit of 1000 km.
The Tunnan proved to be not only a very capable and agile fighter, but also proved very durable in sorties. During a UN mission in the Congo it received intensive ground fire without sustaining any noticeable damage.
Later versions of the Tunnan received various refinements, including the addition of an afterburner, which was the first successful use of such a device in combination with a British jet engine. Improvements were made to the wing shape, incorporating a dog-tooth leading edge, for the effect of raising the critical Mach number of the aircraft.
The armament of the Tunnan consisted of four 20mm Hispano Mark V cannons placed in pairs on both sides under the nose. The pylons were capable of carrying 75mm air-to-air rockets, 145mm anti-armour rockets, 150mm High Explosive rockets or 180mm High Explosive anti-ship rockets.
From 1963 onwards, all frontline J 29Fs were equipped with AIM-9 Sidewinder infrared-seeking air-to-air missiles. Fuel air-drop tanks could be used as napalm bombs.
SAAB-made aircraft were rarely seen in combat but Tunnan was the exception, it saw extensive use during conflict in Central Africa.
In September 1961, in response to an appeal by the United Nations for military support, an initial force of five J 29Bs were stationed in the Republic of Congo as a contribution to a UN peacekeeping mission in the region, organized as the F22 Wing of the Swedish Air Force.
In 1962, four additional J29Bs and two J29Cs were sent. The J29s were the only combat aircraft at the disposal of the United Nations at the time. Most of the missions involved attacking ground targets with internal cannons as well as unguided rockets. No aircraft were lost in action despite large amounts of ground fire. Consensus of the crews and foreign observers was that the Tunnan’s capabilities were exceptional.
The only aircraft lost was by a high-ranking officer who made a trial run and crashed during an aborted takeoff. When the UN peacekeeping mission was over in 1964, four of the Tunnans returned to Sweden, while the remaining were destroyed at their base, since they were no longer needed at home and the cost of retrieving them was deemed excessive.
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