Saab’s JAS 39 Gripen E has made its maiden flight today. It flew from Saab’s Linköping site this morning.
The Gripen E will operate at a higher all-up weight than the JAS 39C variant: 16.5 tonnes compared to 14 tonnes. It also carries 40 per cent more fuel. A new AESA radar is accommodated within a new radome, and the nose gear now has a single wheel, which allows the Gripen E to operate from a runway with arresting gear.
Structurally things have also changed. The outer wings now attach farther out — at pylon three — to make extra internal space for fuel tanks, and new aluminum-lithium integral frames are provided for the wing attachments. The main gear now retracts into the wing, rather than the fuselage. There are larger engine air intakes and a new secondary environmental control system (ECS) for the powerful AESA radar at the bottom of the fin leading edge. A revised wingtip design accommodates new electronic warfare antennas. Although the canopy, seat and outer elevons are common with the Gripen C, this is altogether a very new beast.
Saab plans three Swedish test aircraft, which will be in addition to the 60 series-production examples on order for the Swedish Air Force. Aircraft 39-8 is the prototype that was rolled out on May 18, 2016 and made the first flight today. The next two prototypes, 39-9 and 39-10, are both in build at Linköping and are all single-seat JAS 39Es.
Brazil plans its initial buy around 28 Gripen Es and eight two-seat Gripen Fs. Saab will also build one Brazilian ‘Echo’ test aircraft, which will be built at and will initially operate from Linköping before it relocates to South America. The Brazilian aircraft differ somewhat from the Swedish jets. They will have a customer-specific communications suite and certain weapons, plus they feature a large-area display cockpit, unlike the Swedish aircraft that are currently planned to feature the more traditional layout of three multifunction displays (MFDs). The Swedish configuration reflects a lower-risk initial approach to the Gripen E program, but reports suggest that Sweden may still elect to move to a large-area display.