Saab’s next generation Gripen E has taken another step toward operational status by breaking the sound barrier for the first time. The US$85 million jet, with test pilot Robin Nordlander at the controls, flew beyond Mach 1 over the Baltic Sea on 18 October.
According to Nordlander, the Gripen E’s advanced engine and airframe design produced a smooth transition from subsonic, to transonic. During the test flight, the aircraft achieved and sustained supersonic speed for several minutes as flight recorders and telemetry gathered data on the aircraft’s performance.
So far, the Gripen E has clocked up 20 flight hours since its maiden flight on June 15, 2017.
The Gripen E has an overall length of 15.2 m, a wingspan of 8.6 m and a maximum takeoff weight of 16,500 kg. Its GE Aviation F414G engine gives it 20 percent more thrust than its predecessor, the single seat Gripen C and dual Gripen D, which are operated by the SAAF, for a maximum speed of Mach 2 (1,522 mph, 2,450 km/h) in Supercruise mode at high altitude. For comparison, the Lockheed F-35 Lightning II has a maximum speed of Mach 1.6, despite its much larger engine and higher service ceiling.
“As Gripen pilots we are used to extreme speed but to go through the sound barrier for an aircraft’s first time is still a moment to enjoy,” says Saab test pilot Marcus Wandt.