LINKOPING, Sweden—Saab plans to have eight of its new-generation Gripen E combat aircraft flying by the end of this year as it ramps up flight testing.                                                                       

The company already has two JAS 39Es flying from its Linkoping base, 39-8 and 39-9, with company officials revealing that the third aircraft, 39-10, could fly in the next couple of weeks.

Serial production of the aircraft already is underway, with four aircraft currently undergoing final assembly, including the first aircraft destined for Brazil.

Several of these will be production-standard aircraft but equipped with flight test instrumentation. The second aircraft is also now flying with its extensive sensor suite, including the electronic warfare suite, the Leonardo-developed Raven active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and infrared search and track.

The company also has tested the swashplate that gives a level of mechanical steering to the AESA radar, boosting its field of view.

“We are getting more out of each individual flight test hour, which we didn’t anticipate,” said Eddy de La Motte, the head of the Gripen E program at Saab.

Flight tests are being performed by a joint test and evaluation team that includes personnel from Saab and the Swedish defense materiel agency FMV. Later this will expand to personnel from Brazil.

Saab currently is finishing up modifying aircraft 39-7, the two-seat Gripen demonstrator that is now being used as a flying test rig for Gripen E systems, including the new wide-area display that is being fitted in the rear. Sweden elected to adopt the wide area display developed by Brazilian firm AEL Sistemas last year, and the configuration will now be the standard fit for production Gripen Es. The Gripen Es are currently flying with three multifunction displays in the cockpit. The first Gripen E to receive the wide-area display will be the first aircraft destined for Brazil.

Saab 39-7, along with one of the Gripen Es, will go to Switzerland to support flight evaluation for the country’s fighter contest.

Recent milestones for the program include flights maneuvering up to 9g. The aircraft also achieved the highest-ever level speed by a Gripen-family aircraft, but the company did not disclose the speed.

Saab deputy chief test pilot Marcus Wandt told Aerospace DAILY that Gripen E’s flight control system enabled levels of maneuverability similar to that of the Gripen C/D, and that the aircraft “carried its weight well” given the increased weight, size and bulk compared to the earlier, smaller model of the aircraft. As on the previous version, the Gripen E has been designed to operate from short runways and highway strips. Beefed up brakes and deflective movement of the canards help slow down the aircraft on touchdown. In simple terms, the carefree-handling flight control system has two modes, gear up and gear down, allowing for the higher/lift lower speed configuration for landing, Wandt said.

“We want the aircraft to fly like the Gripen C/D in terms of maneuvering,” de La Motte said.

Saab currently has orders for 60 Gripens from Sweden and 36 aircraft for Brazil including eight two-seat versions, development of which is taking place in Brazil with a joint Swedish/Brazilian team.

Power-on of the first Brazilian aircraft already has been completed and is one of 21 Brazilian aircraft that will be built in Sweden. Of those 21, eight will be built jointly by Brazilian teams as part of their training.

Saab also is strengthening its presence with the opening of a Brazilian affiliate, Saab Aeronautica Montagens. It will start operations in 2020 building forward and rear fuselages, and the wing box in Sao Bernardo do Campos for both Swedish and Brazilian aircraft.

Fifteen of Brazil’s first batch of 36 aircraft will be built entirely in Brazil.

Development of the two-seat Gripen F is proceeding apace. The addition of a second cockpit requires the lengthening of the fuselage by 65 cm and adjustments to the electrical system to cope with the additional avionics and oxygen system. The design of the ducting from the air intake to the engine also is being redesigned and the fuselage strengthened, to deal with increased bending moments.

“We are trying to keep everything as similar as possible. All the systems are the same. All the displays are the same. Minor changes will also be needed to the flight control system,” de La Motte said.

The two-seat version is designed to be fully operational, with the two cockpits independent from each other to enable the rear-seater to operate the EW system. De La Motte says he does not expect any significant impact on the two-seat model’s performance. First flight of a two-seat Gripen is expected in 2022.