Saab’s 32 Lansen is an underrated Cold War ground-attack aircraft


We at HotCars recently took a look at some of Sweden’s best military airplane. These flying war machines were produced by the Saab company, the aeronautical division of the car manufacturer Saab. So far, we’ve looked at the Draken, the innovative delta-wing aircraft, and then the Viggen, the successor to the Draken. They are two of the most iconic aircraft in Swedish aviation history. But while the Viggen replaced the Draken, a second version of the Viggen was also designed to replace another legendary Swedish aircraft.

This aircraft was the Saab 32 Lansen. The Lansen was a two-seat transonic aircraft that first flew in November 1951. And the aircraft was primarily designed for ground attack operations, which the AJ 37 variant of the Viggen was meant to replace. But the Lansen also served as a fighter aircraft in the J 32B form and a reconnaissance aircraft in the S 32C form. The attack variant was dubbed A 32A Lansen. Despite the advent of the Viggen, the Lansen would remain in service with the Swedish Air Force until 1997, making it one of the oldest aircraft in air arms history.

The development of the Lansen

Officially, the Lansen dates back to the fall of 1946. At the time, the Saab company was beginning internal studies to develop a replacement aircraft for their Saab B 18/S 18. In 1948, the Swedish government then approached Saab to investigate on replacing a wide range of 1940s aircraft with a new turbojet-powered attack aircraft. This is where the Lansen story really began. It didn’t take long for Saab to start working on the project, and the new aircraft first received the title of P1140.

While Saab had hoped to power the aircraft with the new STAL Dovern turbojet, technical issues and delays with that engine meant it would instead be powered with the license-built Rolls-Royce Avon 100-series turbojet. On November 3, 1952, the first P1150 took flight, and a small batch of prototypes were then built for flight testing. The trials went well and the aircraft was soon nicknamed the Saab 32 Lansen in early 1953, and in 1955 the first production A 32A Lansen attack aircraft was delivered to the Swedish Air Force . The Lansen was now in operational service.

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The design of the Saab 32 Lansen

Compared to the modern Draken, Viggen and Gripen, the 32 Lansen has a fairly simple design. The basic design was inspired by German aircraft designs, such as the Messerschmitt P.1101 and the P.1112. The Saab team took delivery of the secret drawings of these aircraft from Switzerland in 1945. The fuselage had a sleek, streamlined design with very sharp banklines and swept-back wings mounted at the bottom of the fuselage. The Lansen would also become the first aircraft in which every molding line was the result of a mathematical calculation, thanks to early computer technologies.

Its Rolls-Royce Avon engine would be called the Svenska Flygmotor RM5 turbojet, and was built under license by the Svenska Flygmotor company. Tricycle landing gear was adopted, as would be found on many military jet aircraft, and the wings were swept about 35 degrees. The A 32A was the main maritime attack and strike version of the Lansen, while the J 32B was the all-weather fighter, then the S 32C was the reconnaissance variant. The A 32A, J 32B and S 32C were all retired in the 1970s, but the J 32D target tug and J 32E electronic warfare and countermeasures variants would fly until 1997.

The Lansen in Swedish service

The Lansen will serve the Swedish Air Force very well in its various roles. The A 32A variant in particular received much praise. Bill Gunston and Peter Gilchrist, British military historians, said it was both a very efficient aircraft in terms of functionality and accuracy of its armament. However, a third of all Lansens were destroyed in accidents during its 25 years of operational service. Ultimately, the Lansen would effectively become the last purpose-built Swedish ground-attack aircraft. The multirole Viggen took over the type’s attack responsibilities in the early 1970s. However, 20 J 32B Lansens were converted to the target tug role and these flew until 1997.

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Keeping the Lansen Legacy Alive

Two Lansens will however fly in the 2010s as high altitude research aircraft in conjunction with the Swedish Radiation Protection Authority. Today, there is only one Saab 32 Lansen in flying condition. It is a Saab J 32B Lansen from the Swedish Air Force Historic Flight, where it also flies alongside the Draken and Viggen. Nine other planes are on display in museums, including one in the United States, reminiscent of Sweden’s last bespoke ground-attack aircraft and one of the most elegant jet planes of the Cold War.

Sources: Reddit, Hush-Kit, YouTube, Military Factory,

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