It’s four past three in the afternoon in Linz, Austria, and Jürgen ‘Lucky’ Cirtek turns his eyes to the west, only to say ‘there they are!’ before anyone else does. ‘They’ are three Saab 105s, returning to Linz after a 2 vs 1 training mission, and Cirtek, he is commanding officer of the Düsentrainerstaffel, better known as ‘the Tigers’. The squadron is getting ready for this year’s Tiger Meet, but there’s also the regular surveillance missions to be flown, interceptions to be carried out and training to be done for aspiring Austrian Air Force Typhoon pilots. Welcome to the Tigers.
At the airfield of Linz Hörsching, it’s a hot day. “Air conditioning? Of course! ”, says Cirtek when asked if the Saab 105OE provides air conditioning to its occupants. The design may date from the sixties and the cockpit is all about dials and gauges, air condition the Swedish Saab certainly has. At Linz, the remaining 18 Austrian Air Force Saab 105OE aircraft – out of an original 40 – are still used on daily basis for operational tasks and training purposes. Austria has been using the type since 1970.
“Every Austrian knows the Saab 105”, says Cirtek as he walks the Düsentrainerstaffel hangar, where four aircraft are parked and a larger number are stored, never to fly again. All are in different configurations, illustrating the active roles the trusty type still has in the Austrian military. “This is the basic trainer version”, the head Tiger says while pointing to a Saab equipped with two ejection seats in the cockpit. The left seat is for the student pilot while the right seat is for the instructor. “From the left, all flight controls can be reached. So, when a pilot flies the Saab 105 solo, it will always be from the left seat.”
It’s old skool on the Saab. No fancy fly by wire, MFDs or GPS cordinates here. “It’s an aviator’s aircraft, one that requires contstant attention from the pilot. You really learn to fly on this”, says Cirtek, who himself has 2,500 flight hours under his belt, many of which were on the Saab 105. He was the designated airshow pilot for a number of years.
Student pilots come the Tiger staffel at Linz after basic training on the Pilatus PC-7. In two phases they learn the in & outs of Saab 105 flying. An any moment, four out of 15 pilots at Düsentrainerstaffel are student pilots, with becoming a Typhoon pilot as the ultimate goal. “Since 2011, pilots selected for Typhoon continue their training with the Italian Air Force in Lecce, flying the Aermacchi MB-339CD. There, they get used to things like the head up display (HUD), which the Saab doesn’t have. After that, they go to Laage in Germany to fly the Typhoon.” Finaly, they end up in Zeltweg, where the 15 Austrian Air Force’s Typhoons are located. Both the Saab 105s and the Typhoons are part of the air force’s Überwachungsgeschwader – or fighter wing.
The Saab 105 sometimes functions as an intercept target for Typhoons. But, interception of unknown aircraft is also a task for the Tigers themselves, albeit a difficult one. The configuration of the aircraft is the same as the training configuration. Cirtek: “We get to intercept aircraft, but speed and the lack of radar are issues. We cannot keep up with an airliner above FL390, and below that, it still takes a lot of ground controlled intercept (GCI) work to arrive at the target at exactly the right speed. It’s quite demanding.” However, the fact that Austrian Saab 105s have more powerful General Electric J85-GE-17B engines than their Swedish equivalents, helps quite a bit.
Next up in the hangar is an aircraft about to be fitted with an Adler 30mm gunpod, which makes it suited for ground support, a speciality that is trained twice a year at gunnery ranges in Austria. Also in the hangar is a VIP-variant of the Saab 105, offering space to a pilot and three passengers. No ejection seats in this one. The variants that do have ejection seats, are getting the old seats replaced with newer ones from Sweden. It is one of the few updates that limited funds allowed over the last few years. Work to replace some avionicis is also in progress, with one modified aircraft available at Linz.
Austria expects the Saabs at Linz to fly until 2020, however nobody knows what its replacement will be. The uncertain future could lead to experienced instructor pilots to look elsewhere, leaving the Austrian Air Force with a huge gap in training knowledge and experience. For the time being, Cirtek enjoys flying the Saab. “My most memorable flight was during the Air Power airshow at Zeltweg in 2013, when I flew as lead pilot in a 4-ship aerobatic display. That took a lot of effort by all involved, but it was very rewarding.”
The same joy will be felt during the Tiger Meet, starting 16 June in Schleswig Jagel in Germany. Düsentrainerstaffel is a long time member of the tiger association, and their tiger adorned Saab 105 has been a familair sight for several years. “This one we’ve had in these colours since 2010, when we celebrated 40 years of Saab 105 in Austria. Next year, it will be 45 years…. so we are already working on some ideas”, says Cirtek with a wink, while behind him, the last Saab 105 is put in the hangar. It’s seven past four in the afternoon, and that concludes one more day of flying the Saab 105 in Austria.
© 2014 AIRheads’ editor Elmer van Hest