Home / History / When a Saab 37 Viggen PILOT were able to achieve RADAR LOCK on SR-71 Blackbird

When a Saab 37 Viggen PILOT were able to achieve RADAR LOCK on SR-71 Blackbird

When a Saab 37 Viggen PILOT were able to achieve RADAR LOCK on SR-71 Blackbird

In the Cold War era, Swedish JA-37 Jas Viggen fighter pilots were scrambled on 400-500 live Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) missions per year to intercept any unidentified aircraft approaching Swedish airspace. QRA targets came from both Warsaw and NATO nations

Rolf Jonsson, a retired Swedish Air Force (Svenska Flygvapnet) fighter controller recalls in Paul F Crickmore book Lockheed Blackbird: Beyond the Secret Missions  about VIGGEN Vs BLACKBIRD encounter.

When the SR-71 first began operating in Europe our air force was equipped with the Saab J-35F Draken and although intercept attempts were made, the aircraft’s performance wasn’t up to the task.

When the Saab JA-37 Viggen entered service, suddenly the mix was right; the aircraft’s performance and avionics capabilities combined with the eagerness of its pilots and a high degree of teamwork with the air command and control centres, including the radar tracker (a conscript), the intercept controller and the pilots.

As told by Crickmore, the first successful intercept of an SR-71 over the Baltic was carried out by Per-Olof Eldh, who recalls the incident:

“In 1980, I joined the 2nd Squadron “Blue Marlins” of Fighter Wing 13, equipped with the JA-37 fighter Viggen and based at Bravalla, just outside the town of Norrkšping, on the Baltic coast.

Our mission was to conduct operational task and evaluation focused on air defence and air superiority. We were already equipped with a data link from the air defence network

The next step was to establish it between fighters and we achieved this in 1981. Integrating this with the PS-46 air-to-air pulse-Doppler radar and the Skyflash missile provided the JA-37 with a significantly enhanced capability.

Looking at the map display on the MFD, the pilot could see other friendlies, the enemy, SAM sites, etc, and this information was constantly updated via the data link by fighter controllers and other JA-37s, giving the pilot unprecedented levels of situational awareness.

In fact, the system was so good that we could employ the same tactics – line abreast, box formations or scissors manoeuvres – day or night in VFR or IFR conditions.

When I conducted the first Swedish Air Force intercept of an SR-71, the target had completed its north-bound pass of the Soviet coastline, and had turned west, south of the Finnish island of Aland, and was tracking south of a heading that would take it between Gotland and Öland. The data link from the fighter controller was on, and I lined up for a head-on attack with a target angle of 180°.

From my altitude of 8.000m, I accelerated to Mach 1.35 then pulled up, very gently, continuing to accelerate to between Mach 1.7 and Mach 2.0, topping out at between 18.500 and 20.000m.

All the target data was on my map display, including radar detection of the target at maximum range, which then locked on immediately afterwards. I simulated missile launches – the closing velocity was very high, between Mach 4.5 and 5.0; the SR-71 was flying at Mach 2.98 and 21.500m.

I had visual contact.

In total, I have five hot intercepts against the SR-71 to my credit. All can be described as successful. I was visual three times; on a couple of occasions, the SR-71 was controlling, which was very useful because you could do a visual check to ensure you ended up in the right spot!

When we began conducting these SR-71 intercepts, the squadron began a special air safety program and we all underwent an intense series of emergency procedure checks in the simulator because we were flying at the outer edges of the envelope and at higher risk.

On January 1986, while leading a JA-37 three-ship in aircraft tail number “38”, we received target data immediately after take-off from Bravalla. We flew in the trail, receiving updated target information over the link from both the fighter controller and the other fighters in the formation.

All three of us carried out successful intercepts between 13:14 hours and 13:25 hours, about 50km west of the town of Visby, on the island of Gotland. Major Moller was number two, in tail number “60”, and Captain Ulf Johansson number three in tail number “53”.

I remember that the SR-71 was flying at an altitude of 22.000m and a speed of Mach 2.9. Ulf had some difficulties coming back to earth – he actually reached the target’s altitude and passed the SR-71 head-on at the same altitude with some side separation, but suffered a high-temperature engine stall! A cartoon drawn by SAS Captain Stefan Lofren to commemorate this event was used as a poster in our briefing room.”

The article appeared on The aviation Geek club 

Read more: Saab JAS 39 Gripen Swedish Multi-role Fighter Aircraft

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