The Saab Safir – a gem of a trainer

By: shortfinals

Jul 02 2011

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Category: aircraft, Aviation, British Isles, England, Great Britain, military, Museums, Second World War, warbird

1 Comment

Focal Length:18mm
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Camera:NIKON D40

The Saab Safir (Swedish for ‘sapphire’) is a surprising aircraft. Saab (Svenska Aeroplan AB), were better known for their production of fighter and attack aircraft, but occasionally ventured into the field of trainer design. In the years before the start of WW2, the German concern of  Heinkel (Heinkel Flugzeugwerke) had invested in Saab, hoping to circumvent the provisions of the Versailles Treaty regarding the production of military aircraft in Germany. Carl Bücker (a Heinkel employee) was in charge at Saab, and when Heinkel withdrew from Sweden and brought everyone back to Germany, Bücker took a brilliant young Swedish designer, Anders J Anderson, with him. By 1934, Bücker had formed his own company – Bücker Flugzeugbau GmbH – and had started to produce a line of primary and advanced trainers, including the Bü 131 Jüngmann, and the Bü 181 Bestmann, both designed by Anderson. The Bestmann was produced under licence by the Swedish company Hägglund & Söner AB, as the Sk 25, for the Swedish Air Force.

Anderson returned to Sweden before the outbreak of WW2, and began work on a trainer (which resembled the Bestmann) for Saab. The prototype first flew in November, 1945, powered by a de Havilland DH Gipsy Major 1C of 130hp. It was a low-wing three-seater, with retractable tricycle undercarriage; however, the Gipsy Major 1C left it a little underpowered, so the engine was swapped for a Gipsy Major 10 of (147 hp) for the initial production series, known as the Saab 91A. Of the first 48, the Swedish Air Force (Flygvapnet) took 10 as the Tp 91; this was a liaison and communications machine. Others were delivered to the Netherlands State Aviation School, the Ethiopian Air Force and 14 to various private owners.

The Swedish Air Force decided that, with some modifications, the Safir might be an excellent trainer. Saab looked around for a more powerful engine, and came up with the six-cylinder, American-designed Lycoming O-435-A, of 190 hp, giving a cruising speed of 145 mph. The prototype of this version was known as the 91-B by Saab, and the Sk 50B by the Flygvapnet. This aircraft, and subsequent versions, was a resounding success, being exported in quantity. A total of 323 were built, both in Sweden and the Netherlands, production finishing in 1966. Here we can see a fine example of a Saab 91B-2 Safir, in the markings of the Royal Norwegian Air Force (note the all-over ‘trainer yellow’ scheme, highlighted by areas of ‘day-glo’ orange-red). The Kongelige Norske Luftforsvaret received 25 examples of the 91B-2 and 5 Sk 50B aircraft from Swedish stocks. This one, ‘56321’ (c/n 91321) is seen on display at Newark Air Museum, Nottinghamshire. It was formerly on the U.K. Register of Civil Aircraft as G-BKPY, but was removed from the Register as ‘withdrawn from use’, in February 2002.

The Safir is now a rare bird in British skies, but one with a proud history of service, both civil and military. Trainers rarely occupy the headlines, but are a vital part of the scheme of things; after all, no trainers, no future pilots!

One comment on “The Saab Safir – a gem of a trainer”

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