The South African Air Force's first six instructor pilots for the Saab Gripen will commence training activities in September, with development testing having recently concluded using its first of 26 aircraft.

Conducted from the Gripen Flight Test Centre (GFTC) at Overberg air base, the programme totalled 199 sorties and 178 flight hours between August 2006 and November 2007. Work culminated with around 10 operational-standard flights, including simulated air-to-air combat with a SAAF Denel Cheetah C: the service's current frontline fighter.

 Gripen SA01
© Craig Hoyle/Flight International

One of seven two-seat Gripen Ds on order for South Africa, instrumented test aircraft SA01 will be flown to Johannesburg for painting, with final acceptance by the SAAF to take place during March. The aircraft was temporarily grounded on 17 January following a Swedish investigation into a flow problem identified with a new external fuel tank design used by the aircraft and some Saab-operated Gripen test aircraft. However, the tank is not in use by air force customers the Czech Republic, Hungary or Sweden, says Saab.

The fuel tank problem was the cause of one of just three aborted flights during the Overberg campaign, says Magnus Lewis-Olsson, manager flight test operations, with the remainder caused by environmental control system faults.

Aircraft SA01 will be based at Overberg for at least the next two years for continued testing. Flights with Rafael's Litening II targeting pod will commence in mid-year, with the SAAF close to selecting a laser-guided bomb for the Gripen. A large number of unguided bomb drops were conducted during the recent test campaign, but the air force looks likely to select an interim infrared-guided air-to-air missile, as Denel's selected A-Darter weapon is still under development.

Gripen SA01 tail 
© Craig Hoyle/Flight International

Deliveries of additional two-seat Gripens will continue this year, with the SAAF's first single-seat example to follow in mid-2010, when the service must provide air policing duties for the football World Cup. The type will replace Cheetahs assigned to 2 Sqn at Makhado air base, with final delivery scheduled during 2012.

Johan Rydin, Saab's in-country director for Gripen, says the company could conduct additional future testing at the GFTC facility, with the type and unmanned air vehicle designs possible visitors. "We are looking at the whole Saab programmes," he says, adding: "We can do everything here that can be done in Sweden." Control of the GFTC will be transferred fully to Denel and the SAAF around September/October, with Saab to retain a support function until early 2009.


Source: Flight International