SAAB-AB and Keeping Faith: Test Pilots who fly-drive Saabs

Our old friend and SaabsUnited writer Lance Cole – author of Saab 99 & 900, and the forthcoming (September!) Saab Cars – The Complete Story (Crowood Press) is also an aircraft fanatic. His new book, ‘Secrets of the Spitfire’ is selling fast and at the Royal International Air Tattoo – the world’s biggest airshow, Lance took time off from book signings and sitting in a Spitfire, to meet up with the Saab driving, Saab flying Saab AB test pilots.

Here’s Lance’s take on the scene in his own words and photos:

“In case anyone has forgotten, Saab the car maker was part of a greater Saab AB company for decades. That company – the true Svenska Aeroplan Aktie Bolaget still exists and is entirely separate from whatever remains of the beloved car company. Saab AB is celebrating 75 years of defence and security in 2012.

For all those of you who just think ‘car’, its time to remember that Saab AB the aerospace and defence company is alive, healthy and very well, and of course is still actively supporting Saab as national entity – including contributing to saving the museum, keeping a hand on the tiller of the ‘Saab’ brand, and employing many people. Even if wings are not your thing, we owe Saab AB a big thanks for remaining as de facto guardians and keeping the faith.

Because I also write about aeroplanes as well as cars, I keep up to date with Saab’s flying activities. Which was how last weekend I found myself talking to a veteran Saab man who loves the Saab 900 Classic, who drives a 9-3 and who happens to be a senior Saab AB test pilot. His name is Ake Wargh and he and Saab were displaying at the 2012 Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) at Fairford in the UK prior to this week’s Farnborough International aerospace event.

Ake – a Saab chief pilot, was on site with the Saab 2000 maritime reconnaissance airframe – developed from the original Saab 340 airliner. Although the 2000 is a stretched offspring, the new Saab 340 based airborne early warning military market derivatives, the ERIEYE and AEW/C and the new MSA maritime surveillance variant, also form part of the Saab stable. As you can see from the multi-bladed props, and fuselage additions, the 2000 is a great piece of Saab kit: Like the Gripen it is selling worldwide.

Also on the Saab AB line up this weekend was Fredrik Müchler – Saab’s current Gripen JAS-39C series, lead test and display pilot and former Draken and Viggen pilot. Fredrik gave a stuning display of high-speed and low-speed flying in the small, nimble, incredibly chuckable Gripen: the spirit of Saab lived on.

These men and all the Saab team from the Flight Test Centre at Linkoping who were at RIAT are true ambassadors for Saab – they were on hand to talk to everyone-young and old, military and civilian; their Saab enthusiasm was obvious.

Ake talked fondly of the Saab 900 classic and its quality engineering and Fredrik is clearly a turbocharged individual – shortly after we spoke he took to the skies for his stunning Gripen demonstration. The agile Saab Gripen reminded me of the Spitfire – with exquisite handling and a great rate of turn and with tight turn radius on offer from a fully energised wing that has had its spanwise flow, boundary layer and curvilinear lift distribution and wing fillet, properly engineered. Gripen has very low drag and is incredibly nimble – all managed by fly-by-wire.

So, the spirit of Saab, the soul of ‘our’ beloved brand, still has wings. Hopefully it will soon have wheels again too. Saab cars as we knew it may be gone, but there is more than one way to skin a cat called Phoenix…

Meanwhile, please don’t forget our fellow Saab fans who fly, great guys and true Saabists who are keeping the other ‘arm’ of all that is Saab, alive and thriving with total Saabism. Saab still flys folks – lets offer them our support.”

Lance would like to thank the SAAB AB flight test team and ground crew fro their kindness and enthusiasm. All photos by Lance Cole (c).

10 thoughts on “SAAB-AB and Keeping Faith: Test Pilots who fly-drive Saabs”

  1. Lance, what a fantastic piece! I am not an aircraft buff by any means but I found this piece thoroughly interesting. You are so right to bring this to our attention. I, like I am sure others all to easily forget the big picture in these troubled times. And it is with great thanks to you that stories like these are brought to us.
    We all look forward to your next Saab book, put together I am sure with your usual detail and accuracy. Great work.

  2. The comparison with the Spitfire goes further than that – the Gripen is probably the best single engine multi-role fighter there is. Also the Erieye on the Saab 340/2000 is a niche leading product, and completely Swedish (developed) at that. Sweden has used it to look & listen far into Russian territories for many years now…(Oh, but that is a secret….?)
    For me, this points clearly to what x-Saab Automobile/NEVS has to do – focus on small but well defined niches were they can be (among the) best in the market. It can be cutting edge (battery) tech, bang for the buck, range, etc, just make the effort in that well defined area to achieve market leadership.
    Recently I have travelled quite a bit and talked to a lot of people. To me it is clear that everyone with a bit of foresight is planing for an oil (-less or) free future. Sweden is preparing hundreds of windmills, placed according to meteo studies (I met one meteorologist involved), Germany is deconstructing their nuclear power plants, building more wind farms and is still subsidizing solar PV, a huge project is now being continued in Tunisia to produce solar thermal electricity transferred to Italy by submarine cables…
    Even for the ones that dont (now) like the idea of electrical cars, that is where the future is heading, whatever the source. (I personally don’t understand why Thorium reactors are not commercially developed, but that is just me).
    So show me an electric NEVS Saab 9-3 and I will get one…

  3. Great reading!! As a aviation nut I really love reading stuff like this. I also find the aviation part and -connection of SAAB Automobile’s history an important reason for why I drive SAABs.

    • Yeah, Biggles would have flown a Saab. In Biggles Delivers the Goods, he flew a Saab, with Algy as co-pilot followed by Bertie and Ginger flying another Saab, heading for Australia. Ha! Ha!.

  4. Here we again see the importance of heritage. The SAAB name also can’t just be slammed on any product. It is an obligation in itself to do good. It probably sold more cars even under GM than people will ever admit. Just imagine if they’d offer the exact same THN built cars but changed the name suddenly to ‘Saturn’ at the time of the NG 900 launch.

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