In clear and calm weather the test pilot, Stig Holmström, took off in front of a large crowd of spectators from Linköping airfield at 12:21 on 9 December 1988 for the first public Gripen flight.
In the early 1980s, the Swedish Armed Forces wanted a fully computerised aircraft that could easily switch between air combat, attack and reconnaissance; this presented an enormous challenge. The computers and systems required did not yet exist. Less than ten years later, Gripen flew for the very first time. Since the first delivery in 1993, 204 aircraft have been delivered to the Swedish Armed Forces.
During the 1990s Saab and British Aerospace signed a cooperation agreement for the marketing, export adaptation and production of Gripen, and a twin-seat variant was flown for the first time. The first export order was received in 1999 when South Africa purchased twenty six aircraft.
But Saab's aviation history goes back much further than this. Svenska Aeroplan AB was formed in the same year the Second World War began. After the war, large orders were placed by the Swedish Air Force whichgrew substantially throughout the Cold War. Svenska Aeroplan AB (Saab) rapidly became one of the world's leading aeronautical companies. Saab was by no means large in terms of volume, producing only small amounts. But from a technical point of view, the company was already light-years ahead of its time in the 1930s, with Saab's engineers developing a number of ground-breaking solutions.
- Our products have always been at the cutting edge of technology. As a small country, Sweden has had to distinguish itself through expertise and innovation, says Lars Sjöström, Director Strategy Aeronautics, at Saab.
Saab has played a key part in protecting Sweden's neutrality and this significant role continues to this day. Saab's product development has been intensive since the early days, resulting in the recruitment of many engineers while also helping to maintain Saab's leading position among global aircraft manufacturers. Aviation has long been one of the most research-intensive industries and Saab has always maintained close contact with the research sector.
- We focus on research at an early stage in order to develop unique products. This has paid off. We have often been the first to launch new technical solutions, ground-breaking designs and unique characteristics. This benefits not only Saab, but the whole of society in a much broader context. Countless skilled engineers who grew up at Saab have taken their expertise to other industries where they have created ground breaking solutions and new companies, says Lars Sjöström at Saab.