Besides Brazil, Saab identified future demand for naval fighters in countries like India, Italy and the UK, which, in the coming years will be commissioning new aircraft carriers in their navies. According to Saab, there is a real and viable market for this type of aircraft. Aiming this market, the company is already developing a naval version of JAS-39 Gripen, which aims to be a variant of its newest product, the Gripen NG (Next Generation). This new version was named Sea Gripen.
According to Saab, the requirements established by the Swedish Air Force (Flygvapnet) so that the Gripen had STOL capabilities (Short Takeoff and Landing), i.e. ability to take off and land from short stretches of road, caused the aircraft to present performance and flying qualities similar to those required for aircraft specifically designed to operate from an aircraft carrier.
It was to verify in practice, the “natural vocation” of Gripen to become a naval fighter that I was invited to conduct a flight in Gripen D (two-seater) at the headquarters of Saab in Linköping, Sweden.
The purpose of the flight was to verify that the design requirements of the Gripen confer flight characteristics that demonstrate their conversion potential into a naval version without major and fundamental design changes. Even with very little flight time, the flying qualities present in the aircraft quickly became clear to me. The Saab team, led by Tony Ogilvy, already has identified and mapped all the areas that need special attention and engineering that represent the greatest challenges in Gripen NG “navalization”. The focus of the work focuses primarily on correct sizing and positioning of a stop hook, as well as the necessary modifications so that the already robust Gripen’s undercarriage is able to withstand the high loads associated with landings on flight deck of an aircraft carrier, since, unlike a highway, it moves on all axes and prints a unique stress not only to the landing gear but to the whole structure of the aircraft.
The characteristics of the Gripen D in fact possess flight qualities compatible with the ones desirable for naval aircraft based on aircraft carriers. The accuracy of flight controls, stability at low speeds, the rapid response of the motor acceleration (which, by the way, is the same engine fitted to the F/A-18 Hornet) and AOA great rapprochement that allows good visibility gives Gripen excellent credentials which may lead the Sea Gripen project to a paradigm shift in the aerospace industry.