By the end of 2005 the Saab Viggen will have ended its career with the Svenska Flygvapnet (Swedish Air Force). Accordingly F21 Wing based at Luleå-Kallax in northern Sweden, the sole remaining operator of the Viggen, played host to a photocall on 6-7th April 2005. This event attracted enthusiasts from around the world, presenting them with an opportunity to photograph this remarkable aircraft in action that simply could not be missed.
Séan Wilson gets up close and personal.
Stefan von Below and Louise Levin, members of the Public Affairs Office, greeted us at the main gate. To be honest they seemed as excited to see us as we were to be there. In the distance the familiar sound of jet aircraft could be heard, which we were duly informed was two Viggens departing. One was to be scrapped at Halmstad and the other was destined for the museum at Ängelholm, meaning that only 14 Viggens remained in active service. After a short briefing about safety Stefan informed us of his plan for the two day trip. This was basically an access all areas event. Coaches had been organised for us, we were split into three groups and off we went. As we had a little time to spare before the first sortie of the day was due to depart we headed to the Viggen simulator. Luckily I had a pocket full of coins for the coolest computer game I had ever seen!!
Next stop for my group was the middle of the runway for some take-off shots. The fiery ball was in the sky (the sun is something that I don’t see too often in Aberdeen) and the new lens was ready. The first mission was carried out by an AJSF37 (photo-reconnaissance) and AJSH37 (surveillance) pair. Operating together in the maritime reconnaissance role the AJSF37 relies on the radar of the AJSH37 to locate targets for it to photograph. This role will be taken over by the Spaning (reconnaissance) Gripen equipped with the SPK-39 pod. This was the first time that I had seen an AJSH37 sporting the distinctive splinter camouflage scheme so for me this trip was already an instant success. Next was a quick visit to see the Viggens successor, the JAS39A Gripen, sitting outside its hanger then quickly back to our original spot to catch the morning mission returning. The aircraft were not the only thing to be photographed as we were soon to learn that we were celebrities in Sweden. The local press were waiting to interview the crazy foreigners, some of whom had come half way across the world, just to photograph "some aircraft". Me personally, I was hiding away as I was supposed to be ill and couldn’t afford to be seen gallivanting around in Sweden!! Next on the itinerary was a mini static display of three Viggens, including an Sk37E two-seater trainer/electronic warfare variant. This was what I was really here to photograph. After about ten minutes the hanger doors opened and an AJSF37 that F21 had painted up in a special colour scheme for us was rolled out. A wolf’s head (the symbol of Number 1 Division) adorned the tail and the words "AKKTU STAKKI" (lonely wolf) were written across the fuselage. Unfortunately it had developed an oil problem and was not able to fly. Later on though we would have the opportunity to photograph it sitting on the apron with a more favourable backdrop. Next on our itinerary was a visit to the control tower in time for mission number two. This provided us with an opportunity to get some excellent shots. We did however have to contend with a "minor" obstacle – namely the old control tower which was being dismantled right in front of the new one!! Our final photo spot for the day was at the threshold of runway 32. If only every day could be like this.
The main town of Luleå is not exactly a hive of activity so on Wednesday night I found myself with very little to do. Fortunately the sky was clear thus setting the scene for a spectacular display of a different kind – the Northern Lights. Yet another first!!
The second day was spent much as the first day was only this time we had "swapped" our control tower spot for the flightline. The aircraft were now taking off from runway 14. Oh and one other thing, the weather was looking a little more familiar now – snow, snow and more snow!! This gave us an opportunity to visit the Viggen hanger and a chance to see all of the remaining Viggens. A visit upstairs to the squadron provided some much needed antifreeze in the form of coffee. This warmed us up nicely just in time to make a quick stop at the technical school. This is located next to the civilian terminals on the opposite side of the airfield and it was here that we were able to photograph the Draken, SK60 and of course the Viggens. To finish off we paid a visit to the photo processing lab to see some of the photo reconnaissance images that had just been taken.
All in all this was a fantastic trip. It was unfortunate that only three Viggens flew but it was better to have seen three in action than none at all.
Thanks to Stefan Helsing, Stefan von Below, Louise Levin, all at F21 and Aircraft Illustrated for making this trip possible. Never in all my time as a military aviation photographer have I been treated so well.
© Séan Wilson 2005