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Saab's 32 Lansen Is An Underrated Cold War Ground Attack Aircraft

HotCars logo HotCars 5/20/2022 Henry Kelsall
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At HotCars recently, we have been having a look at some of Sweden’s finest military aircraft. These flying war machines have been produced by the Saab company, the aircraft division of the Saab car company. So far we have looked at the Draken, the innovative delta wing aircraft and then the Viggen, the successor to the Draken. These are two of the most iconic aircraft in Sweden’s aviation history. But while the Viggen replaced the Draken, a second version of the Viggen was also designed to replace another legendary Swedish aircraft.

This aircraft was the Saab 32 Lansen. The Lansen was a two-seat, transonic aircraft that first flew in November 1951. And the aircraft was primarily designed for ground-attack operations, something that the AJ 37 variant of the Viggen was designed to replace. But the Lansen also served as a fighter aircraft in J 32B form and as a reconnaissance aircraft in S 32C form. The attack variant was dubbed the A 32A Lansen. Despite the advent of the Viggen, the Lansen would remain in Swedish Air Force service until 1997, making it one of the longest serving aircraft in the air arms history.

The Development Of The Lansen

Officially, the Lansen can trace its origins way back to the Autumn of 1946. Back then, the Saab company was beginning internal studies to develop a replacement aircraft for their Saab B 18/S 18. In 1948, the Swedish government then approached Saab to investigate replacing a wide range of 1940s aircraft with a new turbojet-powered strike aircraft. This is where the story of the Lansen really began. It didn’t take long for Saab to start work on the project, and the new aircraft was initially given the title of P1140.

While Saab had hoped to power the aircraft with the new STAL Dovern turbojet, technical issues and delays with that engine meant it would be powered with the license-built Rolls-Royce Avon Series 100 turbojet instead. On November 3rd 1952, the first P1150 took to the skies, and a small batch of prototypes was subsequently built for flight testing. Testing went well, and the aircraft was soon dubbed the Saab 32 Lansen at the beginning of 1953, and in 1955, the first production A 32A Lansen attack aircraft would be delivered to the Swedish Air Force. The Lansen was now in operational service.

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The Design Of The Saab 32 Lansen

Compared to the Draken, Viggen and the modern Gripen, the 32 Lansen has quite a simple design. The basic design took inspiration from drawings of German aircraft, such as the Messerschmitt P.1101 and the P.1112. The Saab team took delivery of the secret drawings of these aircraft from Switzerland in 1945. The fuselage had a sleek, streamlined design with very clean leans, and swept back wings mounted at the bottom of the fuselage. The Lansen would also become the first aircraft in which every mould line was a result of mathematical calculation, thanks to early computer technology.

Its Rolls-Royce Avon engine would be called the Svenska Flygmotor RM5 turbojet, and was built under license by the Svenska Flygmotor company. A tricycle undercarriage was adopted, as it would be on many military jet aircraft, and the wings were swept bay by some 35 degrees. The A 32A was the primary attack and maritime strike version of the Lansen, while the J 32B was the all-weather fighter and then the S 32C was the reconnaissance variant. The A 32A, J 32B and the S 32C were all retired in the 1970s, but the J 32D target tug and J 32E electronic warfare and countermeasures variants would fly on until 1997.

The Lansen In Swedish Service

The Lansen would go on to serve the Swedish Air Force very well in its various roles. The A 32A variant in particular achieved a lot of high praise. Bill Gunston and Peter Gilchrist, British military historians, said that it was both a very effective aircraft in terms of its serviceability and the accuracy of its armament. However, one third of all Lansens were destroyed in accidents during its 25 years of operational service. Ultimately, the Lansen would actually become Sweden’s last purpose-built ground attack aircraft. The multirole Viggen took over the attack responsibilities of the type in the early 1970s. However, 20 J 32B Lansens were converted into the target tug role and these flew on until 1997.

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Keeping The Lansen Legacy Alive

Two Lansens however would fly on into the 2010s as high altitude research aircraft in collaboration with the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority. Today, there is just one Saab 32 Lansen in flying condition. This is a Saab J 32B Lansen of the Swedish Air Force Historic Flight, where it also flies alongside the Draken and the Viggen. Nine other aircraft are on display in museums, with one in the United States, standing as reminders to Sweden’s final bespoke ground attack aircraft and one of the most elegant looking jets of the Cold War.

Sources: Reddit, Hush-Kit, YouTube, Military Factory,

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