I recently put in a bid on an online auctions site, for an autograph by Chuck Yeager. I got it cheap, but the autograph had no verification and was not authenticated. It did come with a picture, that made me think this could be a sort of a fan-club pack as I knew Yeager signed stuff per mail.
I contacted Steve Zarelli, whom I used to authenticate my John Glenn autograph. He specializes in astronauts, but is also an expert on several famous aviators.
He examined my autograph and could report that he found the sample to be authentic.
Now I’m in the process of locating pictures of Yeager, when he visited my old airbase, to fly the Viggen, back in 1986.
He sure did!
A bit of an embarrassment for the SwAF that they wouldn’t let him fly front seat…
Yeager wasn’t too fond of the Viggen. Poor view and too many safety features. A culture too focused on safety, instead of war, he thought.
He wasn’t wrong, but this was the 80’s and the SwAF was dealing with cultural change, trying to cut down heavy peacetime lossrates.
The first to go up in the Viggen was our boss, Hilton Moses. I remember going out with him to the aeroplane and seeing him laughing and smiling, and then seeing him getting out and coming back to the crewroom looking like he’d just been put through some kind of crazy combination between a fairground ride and a washing machine. Then I went flying in the afternoon, and it changed my life.
They would fly around at Mach 0.95, 650kt give or take a bit, and they trained at 10m. We flew through firebreaks in trees, we flew all over northern Sweden at 30ft, and we never went below 600kt. All of this, I should add, was done under about a 150 to 200ft overcast with no breaks. In the RAF, anybody who wanted to get old would not have flown in that weather.
After about 40 minutes, we pulled up into cloud...
and the pilot then flew a 4-degree hands-off approach with his hands on his head into a remote airstrip, landed, reversed into a parking bay, did an engine-running refuel without any communication with the people on the ground except hand signals, taxied out and took off in the direction that we’d landed in. Wind direction just wasn’t factored. Then we did some approaches onto roadways, flying at 15 or 20ft to clear the cars and warn them that there were going to be some aeroplane movements before doing practice approaches.
The next day, it was time to take the Swedish pilots flying in the Jaguar. I was at a bit of a loss as to how I was going to explain to this guy that we flew at 420kt when they flew at 620kt. So I decided that the way ahead was to leave the part-throttle reheat in, accelerate to 620kt and then give him the aeroplane. That’s what I did — I took off, and gave him control at 620kt and about 150ft. He pushed the nose down, took the Jaguar down to 30ft and proceeded to fly it at about 30 to 40ft and 600kt-plus quite happily. It knocked all the myths about who’s got the best aeroplanes, who’s got the best-trained pilots and so on. The Swedish Air Force had aeroplanes that were light years ahead of anything the RAF had, or was going to get, or has got now, and their pilots were in a totally different league to us.
This was not just an individual — I flew with three of them, and all three were like that. Each of them was able to fly the Jaguar faster and lower from the back seat than I could from the front seat.
I wasn’t aware that that attitude/culture ever changed during the Cold War. Can you share some insight on when and how that took place? What were ‘peacetime’ losses like during the Cold War? I think I remember reading somewhere that they were relatively heavy compared to UK/US losses, but I’ve never found any more information that supports that online.
As for General Yeager, he was no doubt a great man and an incredible pilot. I had the pleasure of seeing his last P-51 airshow performance (as well as Bob Hoover’s), which was awesome. That said, he wasn’t always known for backing the right horse in procurement debates (see F-20 Tigershark II) or racial equality issues (see Ed Dwight debacle). No one is perfect, even our childhood idols.
I guess rearward visibility could be better, but generally (as depicted in a video game) it’s so fast and low that nothing behind it matters. What safety features does the Viggen even have?
I heard the opposite of what the ‘trash Yeager’ types put out. However, I wasn’t there. Haven’t even thought about this til now. It just didn’t match up with what I knew of Yeager [when he passed]. Anyway, quick search
Well, safety is a relative measurment…
They have always trained like they would fight.
About 550 pilots died in crashes during the cold war. Considering that Sweden had about 7-8 million citizens, that is a high number of casualties. During the darkest period in the 60’s, there were 75 crashes in 15 months…! Something had to be done.
Pilot selection changed, for instance. The SwAF was geared towards a short but intensive war with Russia. Not seeking to win a war, but making an invasion too costly to contemplate. They selected pilots that would follow their squadron commanders, blindly. This changed into wanting pilots that were more concerned with surviving.
Safety features is perhaps not the correct term for it, but it had a lot of pilot aids, as it was designed to fly without a navigator. Yeager was, at the time, hired to market the F-20, that he compared to the Viggen as being designed to make the pilot more effective in combat, not just to aid the pilot in flying it.
Yeager was a an American giant; the perfect man for his time. But his time was not the 70s and 80s. Any aviation opinion he held later in life can’t be taken too seriously. Remember the expert who lambasted the plan to put radar guided missiles on the F-16? The greatest minds filled with the best ideas generally cease being useful to the time in which they live at around age 50. …in my humble 54yo opinion.