The True Heroes of the Air show

Have you ever thought of the amount of work that goes into the planning, coordination, and execution of bringing three Gripen Fighter aircraft from Sweden to India, fly with them multiple times every day for a week, and then fly them all the way back to Sweden? I sure never had until my manager Richard asked me if I would be interested in doing one of my rotations with Saab’s Flight Test division; they are responsible for testing and validating Gripen aircraft, but also in charge of the planning and coordination of bringing aircrafts to different air shows. The latter was to be part of my rotation, to dress up as a technician and learn everything there is to know about running an air show from the flight operational view – at Aero India. 

It is mid-February, we are in Yelahanka, Bangalore to attend Aero India, one of the main events of the year for Saab. It is also an essential key in the process of winning the procurement of some 100+ aircrafts as India is looking towards a major replacement and upgrade of their current fighter aircraft fleet. The deal is in a crucial stage and it is publically known that the two competitors that stand to win this procurement are Saab with our Gripen E multirole fighter and Lockheed Martin with their F-16. The tough competition with Lockheed Martin has turned Aero India into such an important event that, if successful, it could build the momentum needed to win this deal. Due to its importance in the India campaign, Saab had decided to go all in with its presence. With a gigantic Saab stand, with more than 100 Saab representatives from multiple Business Areas of Saab (Saab is currently supplying, and is planning to supply, many products other than fighter jets to India) and with three fighter jets we were ready make Aero India a major success and show why Saab and Gripen is the best choice for India.Prior to Aero India, to get a better understanding of the magnitude of work that goes into one of these air shows, I got to spend three weeks shadowing Agneta, the flight test campaign leader. She is responsible for the planning, coordination and execution of the flight operational part of these types of events. To give you a brief idea of some of the preparations needed:

  • A team of some 30 people, consisting of technicians, pilots, test engineers, and security guards (the aircraft needs constant supervision 24/7)
  • Business visas to grant the crew permission to India
  • All material, tools, and spare parts for the aircraft needed special permission and custody handling
  • Two big containers worth of stuff had to be sent weeks in advance
  • A Saab 2000 aircraft had to be charted and modified to fit the most essential parts, tools and also the crew.

Another task for the Saab 2000 was to accompany the three fighter jets down to India, which was a four day journey across the entire Middle East with multiple stops along the way. On top of all this, in order to be allowed to bring the fighter jets to India, special permission had to be granted by not only the Swedish military, but also every other country which we had to stop in, or fly over on our way to India. To describe this entire process in detail would require a blogpost in itself but I hope this paints a picture of just how much that needs to be taken into consideration when planning for such an event.

In the process of filling up the Saab 2000 that transported the crew to and from India.

But let’s talk about the Airshow, how did it all go?

For Saab, the entire air show can be summarized as a great success. Saab received fantastic news and media coverage during Aero India and the vibes from the hundreds of thousands that visited this 5-day event seemed highly positive. I think one of the main reasons behind this success is the positive attitude and the degree of professionalism that all the Saab employees show when they work these events. It sends a message that is genuine and honest which is something that I believe shines through to all the visitors, journalists, politicians and military personal that came to Aero India.However, if I could argue the value of one group, I am going to argue that one of the most important reasons behind Saab’s success, a key factor of which the success of the entire air show stands or fall, is the work of the 30 people flight test crew. They worked tirelessly, making sure that every time a Gripen fighter was planned to be up in the sky representing Saab, it was able to do so, and give the Aero India visitors an experience they will late forget.

 

The Gripen multirole fighter – The perfect combination of performance and beauty.

This has personally been an experience of a lifetime for me and something that only would have been possible through the Saab Graduate Leadership Programme. It has opened my eyes, as a future marketing and sales person, to how dependent we are of other organisations within Saab, such as the Flight Test division, in our success of marketing and selling Gripen. On top of all this, I also had the good fortune to spend 14 days getting to know some of the most genuine, hilarious, and kind-hearted people that I have ever met. An invaluable experience and new friends for a lifetime, could I possibly ask for anything more? Well, if I was granted one last wish to top this off, how about India buying some Gripen aircraft from Saab?

 

A flawless deliverance from the flight test crew that made sure Aero India could be turned into the great success that is was.