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FARNBOROUGH: Saab to open Gripen fighter pilot school in South Africa

Current and future pilots of the Saab Gripen fighter will be able to cut their teeth at a new training centre in South Africa from late next year, following Saab's (chalet C33-35) confirmation of funding for the initiative.

To be established at the South African air force's Overberg air base, the Gripen Fighter Weapon School will run one two-month course per year in advanced fighter skills. It will initially be open to experienced pilots from the host nation, plus Sweden, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Thailand, but any additional Gripen customers will be welcome later.

"Saab believes there is a need to establish an advanced training centre for experienced Gripen pilots with the aim to increase their operational capabilities, provide an opportunity to operate in an environment different from their own and a chance to train in a region that mirrors a realistic future potential deployment scenario," says Magnus Lewis-Olsson, president of Saab South Africa and an experienced Gripen test pilot. The initiative has the backing of the multinational Gripen user group.

The manufacturer will soon launch activities to build the school, which will rely on leased access to several of South Africa's Gripens. Its air force's last four of 26 aircraft have already been accepted, and will be flown to the country later this year. Lewis-Olsson expects the first course to kick off in October 2013 with four or six aircraft.

"We will look at one subject each year, such as low-level reconnaissance and electronic warfare threats," Lewis-Olsson says. "Later on we could look at air-to-air."

Saab says the Overberg site offers "exceptional training with extensive airspace over mountain ranges, deserts and the Indian and Atlantic Ocean".

One challenge still facing the company is what to call the new school. But Lewis-Olsson confirms: "It won't be Top Gun 2."

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