Saab's next generation fighter jet took another step toward operational status by breaking the sound barrier for the first time. The US$85 million Gripen E aircraft with test pilot Robin Nordlander at the controls flew at speeds beyond Mach 1 (761 mph, 1,225 km/h) over the Baltic Sea on October 18 during flight trials.
According to Nordlander, the Gripen E's advanced engine and airframe design produced a transition from subsonic, to transonic, to supersonic that was so smooth he didn't notice breaking the sound barrier until he read the Mach meter. During the test flight, the fighter plane 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 (49.9 ft), a wingspan of 8.6 m (28.2 ft) and a maximum takeoff weight of 16,500 kg (36,400 lb). Its GE Aviation F414G engine gives it 20 percent more thrust than its predecessor for a maximum speed of Mach 2 (1,522 mph, 2,450 km/h) in Supercruise mode at high altitude. By contrast, the Lockheed F-35 Lightning II fighter can only reach Mach 1.6 (1,218 mph, 1,962 km/h) 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. "It is important that the aircraft handles the transition smoothly through what we call the transonic zone around the sound barrier and she certainly did, it was very smooth."
Test pilot Robin Nordlander discusses the supersonic flight in the video below.