Lansen (the Lance) – the tip of the Swedish spear

Only one year after the end of World War Two, Saab began design studies for a Saab B18 replacement. At that time this was Sweden’s principal bomber and ground attack aircraft; a a classic design with two engines driving propellers, that was just as good as the aircraft of the great powers that had the same tasks. However even though the Second World War was the time when propeller aircraft reached a peak, they were also on the way out. In the last year of the War both Germany and Great Britain had jet aircraft in operation and in terms of speed propeller aircraft had no chance to compete.

Thus what had been the latest aircraft became rapidly obsolete. Saab had itself begun to design what would become the famous J29 Flying Barrel which as a brand new modern jet fighter could match the best offered by the major powers. Now it was time to bring out a new ground attack aircraft that would be able to take the fight to the enemy. Although a capable machine, the B18 was propeller-driven, and the future would lie in jet aircraft.


A B18A in the air over Sweden.

The R-1150 Project

In 1948 Saab began to develop the new aircraft, with Artur Bråsjö as the project manager. It was the same year that the Flying Barrel first flew. Development proceeded very rapidly. The great powers had managed to acquire German prototypes, capture researchers and also gather documentation that could be used to speed up their own developments. Sweden could not hope to compete with them in this information trawl, but nevertheless this country could remarkably obtain some assistance thanks to German research.

At the end of the War in 1945 some engineers from the Messerschmitt company fled to Switzerland and from there made contact with Saab and Frid Wänström of Saab’s stress calculation department to provide a certain amount of captured material. This included among other things wind tunnel studies of various swept wing projects and ideas. Although the material was modest compared to the vast amount gathered by the major powers, Saab’s engineers did get enough to be able to compare with their own calculations. This information meant that they could rapidly make use of German tests on which to base new ideas.

The new project initially had the name R-1150, where R stood for the Swedish abbreviation for jet engine, namely reaction engine. In 1949 the name became Aircraft Project Saab 32. By 1951 the German engineer Hermann Behrbohm had started to work with Saab and his knowledge and German testing background meant that the value of the secret Germant testing material increased even further.

Saab had already flown the J29 Flying Barrel with swept wings, but the Lance would have even more pronounced sweep back. So in order to test swept wings in practice a method was used that had already been applied in the case of the Flying Barrel. A Saab Safir (Sapphire) aircraft had been equipped with scale Flying Barrel wings and tested, under the name of the Saab 201. This aircraft was now fitted with scaled down wings of the same shape and sweepback as for the proposed Lance and tested, this time called the Saab 202.

The proposed Saab 32 was intended for use as an all-weather ground attack, reconnaissance and fighter aircraft. The main focus would be the attack version as the Swedish Air Force needed such an aircraft, which would be modern and powerful, with a long range.

The first Swedish airborne radar

As the Lance would be used for all-weather long distance strike missions it needed a second crew member, a navigator, on board. Computers and GPS were pure science fiction, and the pilot could not be expected to cope with both navigating and flying at high speed at low height. The task of the navigator was to follow maps and navigation instruments to keep the aircraft on course and warn the pilot as they approached the target.

PS-431 radar in the nose of an A32A Lance in the 15 Wing Museum at Söderhamn

The aircraft would also be the first Swedish aircraft to be equipped with radar. Even in this case it was felt necessary to have another crew member, so that the navigator would also act as the radar operator. The PS-431 radar for the strike version of the Lance was mainly intended to be used as a navigation aid, but the reconnaissance version would use a more advanced model for terrain mapping.

Along with the radar the A32A strike variant was equipped with a radio altimeter to assist the crew as the aircraft raced towards its target at the lowest possible height.

On November 3, 1952 the first of four prototype Lance aircraft took off with test pilot Bengt Olow at the controls.

Swedish or foreign engine?

Part of the Swedish plans for a strengthened Air Force was that as far as possible it would be composed of indigenous manufactured equipment. This would also apply to engines. The STAL company in Finspång, southwest of Stockholm, had a great deal of experience in designing various kinds of turbine for industry, and now that experience could be utilised to manufacture aircraft jet engines. However the company had lost the chance to make engines for the Flying Barrel, because Sweden was offered the opportunity to manufacture the British de Havilland Ghost engine for the J29. Volvo Flygmotor would manufacture the Ghost, under the name of the RM2.

STAL were now able to design and build the engine for this next project, the Saab 32 Lance, and in fact developed a remarkable engine that was christened the STAL Dovern after a Swedish lake called Dovern near Finspång. This engine was tested mounted beneath an Avro Lancaster bomber. Problems were discovered but resolved, and finally STAL was ready to start series production in the same year that the Lance was planned to fly, 1952. However after a dozen or so engines had been made the Air Force procurement executive cancelled its agreement with STAL at very short notice. A decision had been made instead to us Rolls-Royce Avon engines.

There was nothing that STAL Finspång could do about it. The decision had been taken at a very high level and it meant that years of development work would be thrown away. The Government did however compensate STAL for the loss and there was no criticism of the Dovern or STAL’s jet engine development work.

At least on paper the Dovern was just as good, if not a little better, than the Avon. But time was a critical factor. Despite rushing its work, STAL had not managed to keep up with the time schedule with the Dovern for the first test flight, so the Avon had to be used and 50 of these were purchased from the United Kingdom. When it turned out that the Avon could easily be installed into the aircraft and also that sufficient numbers could be delivered immediately, the decision was taken to stop work on the Dovern. Costs also came into the picture and as before, the British sold Avon licence construction rights to Volvo Flygmotor, so the Avon was given the Swedish designation RM5. A later upgraded version became the RM6.

Thus a second British engine would power Sweden’s second indigenous jet aircraft. However the story of the Dovern was not completely over. STAL abandoned all its ambitions to produce aircraft engines but at the same time had invested much time and resources in the Dovern design and now all that risked being given up. So STAL went back to its roots, namely the manufacture of industrial gas turbines. The company was were well established in this field and now began to adapt the Dovern to become a pure industrial turbine. This would come to be a very successful adaptation and even today turbines are being produced based on the Dovern. Of course time has brought development and modifications, but the core is still a Dovern, which can be seen as an unexpected but welcome outcome.

The aerial torpedo – A completely new weapon

At the same time as a Swedish jet aircraft was being developed, a less well known but equally revolutionary project was under way. For once the Swedish Navy and Air Force would co-operate in the development of a new type of weapon, an anti-ship missile capable of being steered towards its target and even equipped with its own seeker head. The Germans had also been among the first to use such a weapon. Once again Sweden decided to force ahead with something that otherwise only the major powers were concentrating on. Target seeking missiles were something that was being investigated and tested in various forms at the end of the 1940s and into the 1950s. However in the West the focus was on the development of air-to-air missiles for use in intercepting aircraft.

In the western world it was only Sweden who focused on developing a weapon that would be able to replace aircraft-carried torpedos as a principal weapon for attacking enemy shipping. The Swedish Navy had at an early stage shown interest in what it called “Aerial torpedos”. The idea of creating a weapon that could be carried by both Swedish attack aircraft and by Swedish warships was attractive. In addition, the Soviet Union had also decided to invest in such a design.

The Swedish defence missile office was the body that performed testing of the various prototypes that were in progress for the Air Force and Navy. As early as 1946 testing began of a shipborne anti-ship missile called the Type 310 missile. The first prototype for the Air Force was the Type 301 missile for which design began in 1946 and was tested the next year. At the same time as the Type 301 missile was being tested other projects began, the Types 303 and later 303 missiles.

All three, the 301, 302 and 303 shared a similar idea that once the missile was within 100 metres from its target it would dive down and travel the remaining short distance like a torpedo, to strike below the waterline. The Type 302 missile became the one that was tested most and for the longest time. Between 1948 and 1955 two tests per month were performed, and a total of 35 Type 302 missiles were made Among others, this type of missile was fired from the torpedo bomber version of the B18, called the T18.

It was however clear that there were great problems in developing a weapon that could both fly over and then travel under water. So there appeared yet another project that in the event was settled upon.

The Type 04 Missile

Experience from the first missile prototypes led to a new design being considered. From the start this was intended to be carried by the A32 Lance. Testing with the new weapon, the Type 304A missile, started in 1954, and by that time the idea of a missile that could travel under water just before reaching the target had been abandoned.

Right from the start it was assumed that all Swedish missiles would fly at a very low height, at about 10 metres. If they were launched from a high altitude they would dive down to about 10 metres and then the guidance system would cause them to level out. Trials continued until 1962 when the final version the Type 304C, commenced manufacture. The designation would change to the Type 04C missile.

This new missile was large and such a powerful aircraft as the Lance would carry two. The weapon had its own target seeker, and instead of the earlier plan that like an older torpedo would attack below the waterline, this Type 04 would remain at 10 meters above the surface. As it passed the target the warhead would explode with its damaging force directed downwards. The pressure wave from the powerful charge could then cut a ship in two. If, as is probable, it happened to hit the superstructure on a large vessel, the explosion would be slightly delayed, to allow the missile to penetrate before being set off.

The fact that Sweden was the first country to produce an operational airborne anti-ship missile gave its Lance pilots a great advantage. The Type 04C missile had a range of 10 miles, so now pilots did not have to fly over the target to release bombs or even fly close in order to aim their attack rockets and risk being exposed to enemy anti-aircraft defensive fire. This, along with the powerful warhead meant that now Swedish strike aircraft presented a much greater threat to enemy shipping.

A Rb 04 on display at The Swedish Air Force Museum. Photo Marie Andersson Flygvapenmuseum

The Type 04C missile was also one of the most secret Swedish weapons and its development and constant modifications were surrounded by the most extreme secrecy. This can truly be said to be the sharpest tip of the lance and would even be inherited by the Lance’s successor, the Thunderbolt (AJ37 Viggen).

Over the years several larger warships have been damaged or sunk by different models of anti-shipping missiles, the most recent and probably most spectacular example being the Russian missile crusier Moskva in April 2022 it is clear that Sweden made the right choice in investing in the development of anti-shipping missiles. These type of missiles have proved time and again that they are a force to be reckoned with and give the user the ability to take out even large warship with relatively limited effort.

Versions for every purpose

The first aircraft version to leave the factory in 1955 was the A32A Lansen. This was for its time a modern and powerful strike aircraft. The fixed armament of four 20 mm automatic cannons was accompanied by rockets, bombs and eventually the top secret Type 04C missile.

However it was always intended that the Lance would be capable of manufacture in different versions for different purposes, and after the A32 model there followed the interceptor version, the J32B that first flew in 1957, and soon thereafter in the same year the S32C reconnaissance version. The latter had cameras under the nose replacing the automatic cannons.

To all intents and purposes the J32B was a new aircraft, in comparison to the A version. It was equipped with a more powerful version of the RM5 engine, called the RM6A, which later also powered the Saab 35 Draken (Kite). This engine with more thrust gave the aircraft better performance than its A32A predecessor and was called by its pilots the Lansen Sport, because of its improved performance.

The J32B Lance was intended to be an all-weather interceptor, capable of operating in day, night and poor weather conditions. It was equipped with a more advanced radar, intended to detect other aircraft. The armament was also stronger. It was assessed that 20 mm cannon (as in the A32A) would be a minimum, and that for maximum effect Aden 30 mm cannon (as in the J32B) would be better instead. Four cannon with 90 (A32A) or 180 (J32B) rounds each were located under the nose.

Altogether 450 airframes were built of all the versions. Time passed and aviation developments were relentless. The very latest aircraft could after five years be rendered obsolete. The various versions of the Lance came into service between 1955 and 1958. But by 1978 both the A32A and S32C were showing their age. Both had been replaced by the much more capable Saab 37 Viggen (Thunderbolt).

A second wind

Nevertheless, a smaller number of the better equipped J32B aircraft survived to live on for a while in two more variants. In 1972 six were modified to become target towing machines for the target towing squadron, to remain in service until 1997. Even after that, two would be used as measurement aircraft to collect air samples for the Government Radiation Institute.

12 other individuals were modified in 1972 to become all-weather electronic countermeasures (ECM) aircraft. ECM aircraft carry and use special electronic equipment to disturb an opponent’s various electronic systems, in particular radar. This variant was called the J32E where E stood for “electronics”. The navigator managed the ECM equipment and such aircraft were used extensively to train other Swedish pilots to operate in a disturbed electronic environment. The last of these ECM aircraft was withdrawn from service in 1999.