The Saab 35 Draken (English: “Kite“, ambiguous with ”Dragon“) was a Swedish fighter aircraft manufactured by Saab between 1955 and 1974. The Draken was built to replace the Saab J 29 Tunnan and, later, the fighter variant (J 32B) of the Saab 32 Lansen. The indigenous J 35 was an effective supersonic Cold War fighter that was also successfully exported to Austria, Denmark and Finland.
Design and development
As the jet era started, Sweden foresaw the need for a jet fighter that could intercept bombers at high altitude and also successfully engage fighters. Although other interceptors such as the US Air Force‘s F-104 Starfighter were being conceived during the same period, Saab’s “Draken” would have to undertake a combat role unique to Sweden. Other demanding requirements were the capability to operate from reinforced public roads used as part of wartime airbases, and for refuelling/rearming to be carried out in no more than ten minutes, by conscripts with minimal training. In September 1949, the Swedish Defence Material Administration issued a request for a fighter/interceptor aircraft, and work began at Saab the same year.
The double-delta shape was so revolutionary that it warranted the only sub-scale test aircraft built in Sweden: the Saab 210, unofficially nicknamed “Lilldraken” (the little draken). The Saab 210 tested the concept of the double delta, first flying on 21 January 1952. The 210’s successful testing results led to an order for three full-size Draken prototypes. The first prototype, not fitted with an afterburner, made its maiden flight on 25 October 1955. The second prototype, equipped with an afterburner, unintentionally broke the sound barrier on its first flight while climbing.
Although the J 35 Draken was not designed to be a dog-fighter, it proved to have a good quick turn capability, and it was a capable fighter plane. It entered service with the Swedish Air Force in 1960. A total of 651 Saab Drakens were manufactured. Sweden’s fleet of Drakens came in six different versions and two other models of the Draken were offered for export. The early models were intended purely for air defense. The last model built was the J 35F, the final version to remain in Swedish service. These aircraft were retired in the 1990s, and they were replaced by the Saab JAS 39 Gripen.
All Drakens are interceptors with limited air-to-ground capability, with the sole exception of the Danish Drakens, which are strike aircraft capable of carrying AGM-12 Bullpup missiles, electronic countermeasures, and increased internal and external fuel storage. The Danish Drakens are so far the heaviest of the series to have flown. Danish J 35 aircraft were retired in 1993.
Finland updated its 35XS fleet with new avionics, cockpit displays, navigational/attack systems, and electronic countermeasures during the 1990s, but these were finally retired in 2000 to be replaced by F/A-18 Hornets.
Austria was the last country to keep the Draken in military service. The Austrian Air Force bought refurbished J 35Ds. This was the last Austrian Air Force fighter plane with internal cannons for their lone air-to-air armament because of the restriction in the Austrian State Treaty of 1955. This forbade their carrying air-to-air missiles. This restriction was dropped in 1993 because of violations from the nearby Yugoslavian air combat services. American AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles were purchased. These Drakens were retired in 2005, when they were replaced by former Swiss Air Force F-5 Tiger IIs, while waiting for new Eurofighters.
In the United States, the National Test Pilot School (NTPS) owns six Drakens that were formerly in Danish service; of these, two TF-35XD s and one RF-35XD are operational, based at the Mojave Spaceport.
Role: Fighter Aircraft
Status: 2005 (Austria)
Numbers Built: 651
- Length: 14 m
Weight: 6,792 kg
Wingspan: 9.42 m