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The Legendary SR-71 Blackbird Meets Swedish Saab JA-37 Viggen Fighters: An Unforgettable Encounter


Historic Encounter: Swedish Saab JA-37 Viggen Fighters Challenge and Protect the Legendary SR-71 Blackbird Spy Plane

The SR-71 Blackbird, renowned as the fastest operational aircraft in history, was extensively utilized by the CIA and the US Air Force for spying on the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Despite decades of unmatched flight capabilities, Swedish Air Force Saab JA-37 Viggen fighters managed to visually establish contact and lock onto a missile directed at the Blackbird.

Speed and Efficiency of the SR-71 Blackbird The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, an exceptional stealth spy plane, set numerous speed records during its nearly 25-year tenure, including a remarkable 2,200 mph on July 28, 1976. Reaching speeds of 35 miles per minute, the Blackbird outpaced the bullets fired from World War II’s M1 Garand rifle.

Challenge from the Saab JA-37 Viggen Fighters Swedish Saab JA-37 Jaktviggen (Fighter Viggen) fighters posed a significant challenge with their top speed exceeding Mach 2, exceptional maneuverability, robust weapon systems, and advanced avionics. These capabilities changed the equation, prompting the JA-37s to devise a daring tactic of intercepting the SR-71 head-on, as engaging from behind proved nearly impossible.

Saab Jas-37 Viggen

Encounter and Protection Swedish pilot Per-Olof Eldh received an alert of an SR-71 entering Swedish airspace in January 1986 and skillfully employed a frontal attack protocol to engage the Blackbird. Eldh successfully jammed a missile aimed at the incoming Blackbird, proving that it could no longer fly without being challenged. Eldh went on to intercept five more SR-71s using a similar approach.

In a subsequent incident, Viggens fighters protected a Blackbird that violated Swedish airspace. On June 29, 1987, Lieutenant Colonels Duane Noll and Tom Veltri flew an SR-71 across the Baltic Sea from RAF Mildenhall airbase in the UK. Swedish radars alerted the Viggens to intercept the Blackbird. As the SR-71 diverted and entered Swedish airspace, it encountered engine trouble, descending to 25,000 feet and reducing its speed. The Viggens flew alongside and observed that one of the SR-71’s jet engines had exploded mid-flight, compromising its ability to fly. The Viggens pilots formed a formation to safeguard the Blackbird, which successfully landed in West Germany and was recovered by the US Air Force. A Viggen pilot even captured a photograph of the SR-71 flying on a single engine.

Recognition and Medals In 2017, after the incident was declassified, four Swedish pilots, Colonel Lars-Eric Blad, Majors Roger Moller and Krister Sjoberg, and Lieutenant Bo Ignell, were honored with the US Air Medal for their bravery. The ceremony took place in Stockholm, Sweden, on November 28, 2018.

In summary, the historic encounter between the SR-71 Blackbird, the fastest aircraft ever, and the innovative tactics employed by Swedish Saab JA-37 Viggen fighters showcased the importance of innovation and collaboration in the realm of military aviation. Despite the Blackbird’s technological superiority and speed, it could not evade interception by the skilled Swedish pilots, demonstrating the remarkable capabilities of the Viggen fighters.

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