...because you thought Sweden was Switzerland!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Flygvapenmuseum. Roger that.

Walking in a hangar packed tight with aircraft. Feeling the cold metal of dismantled jet engines, airplane parts salvaged from sea and fire, and autocannons with rounds as big as water bottles. Walking in a dual-rotor helicopter like a soldier waiting to parachute. Sitting in the cockpit of a Draken interceptor and gawking at the number of knobs and buttons they could fit in a cockpit. Only the smell of grease and the deafening purr of engines would have made the trip to Sweden's Air Force Museum (Flygvapenmuseum) more complete, but it was still a damn exciting trip!

Blast to the past

The Air Force Museum is located at Malmen in Linköping, where the first Swedish pilot, the "Flying Baron" Carl Cederström founded his flying school in 1912. Cederström was schooled by Louis Blériot, a Frenchman who holds the title as the first man to cross the English Channel by plane in 1909. Carl Cederström made it as the world's 74th pilot, and soon after leaving Malmen, the hangars of his flying school were taken over by the Swedish Army and became the first permanent base of the Swedish Army aviators. Today, the administration buildings of Hemvärnet (which I wrote about here) and the helicopter squadron also lie on Malmen, as well as the basic pilot training school. Only in 1977 did plans for an Air Force Museum take shape, and this opened its first public display in 1984.

Needless to say, the museum grounds itself is rich in history – a history which the museum reflects in its collection of 50+ airplanes, some even dating back to Cederström's time. It's a real blast to the past for aviation enthusiasts, but still highly interesting even if you're not into Swedish military history. Watching planes evolve from wood-and-cloth biplanes that ran no faster than a car, to jet fighters traveling twice the speed of sound is mind-boggling. People living at the time must have thought so as well: the invention of the aircraft and the breaking of the sound barrier were all achieved in the span of a little more than half a lifetime. For my grandfather who was born in 1899, this means that the Wright brothers made their first sustained flight when he was four; he was thirteen when Cederström set up his flying school in Malmen; a teenager when airplanes became mostly made out of aluminum; in his 30's when the jet engine was developed; and in his 50's raising my 10-year old father when countries – including Sweden – were designing planes that would run twice the speed of sound. If it weren't for all the documented incredible human work involved in designing, developing, and producing the planes of today, you would think that the technology came from aliens.

Made in Sweden

Sweden's neutrality policy means that it can't be too dependent on any other country for its own defense. Thus, in the 1930's, local fighter airplane production began in earnest. "In earnest," seriously. Linköping might look like a sleepy town, but it actually makes it to Sweden's fifth most populous city because of the aerospace and defense company Saab, the largest employer in the city. It's presence there later paved the way for the university and the Linköping University hospital, the city's next biggest employers.

So, as you would expect, the newer fighter planes displayed in the museum are all Saabs. Several Saab 37 Viggen ("thunderbolt") planes are parked outside the hangar, though with their engines removed. They are attack / fighter / reconnaissance planes comparable to F-4 Phantoms, at least according to the references at Wikipedia.

Two Saab 37 Viggens and Marcus

Also among the interesting newer planes is the Saab 35 Draken ("kite" or "dragon" in Swedish), a 1960's interceptor that retired from Swedish service in '95. They have a quite interesting, and as I understand it, revolutionary shape: Saab has a "proof of concept" for it's double-delta wing configuration. There are two of these on display which you can "ride" freely, but of course neither of them budge an inch. For fun, and if you can fit into children's-size army green overalls, you can dress the part of the pilot. Fully grown adults have to be satisfied with wearing the helmet.

on a Saab 35 Draken

As I said, only grease smell and engine noise can make this trip more complete, but if you have 150 kronor to spare, you can make up for this and get 20 minutes hands-on in the JAS 39 Gripen ("griffin") flight simulator, complete with an instructor. The Griffin is currently in service with the Swedish Air Force and are also being sold around the world. Its contemporariness potentially makes for an interesting simulated flight. However, 20 minutes in the simulator is still twice as expensive as the gas it takes to drive 20 minutes down the highway -- and that's with the rising gas prices considered too. So, in short, maybe next time.

First two pictures c/o Cai and Lian. More pictures at my Multiply album.


Anonymous Lara said...

aha! so thats why we saw a bunch of mounted airplanes along the e4 in the linköping area...

10:35 AM

Blogger aka Cheryl said...

pang-professional ang photos mo!! galing!

1:35 PM

Anonymous Lea said...

Hey, my grandfather was born in 1899, i didn't know yours was born in 1901!! hehe

5:10 AM

Blogger Ahoy! said...

Hi Lea! Is he really that old? I really thought he was born 1901! I'll ask dad, then I'll edit the entry. (It's hard to know how old lolo would be anyway since I was non-existent for most of his life!)

7:26 PM


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