The Saab 21’s engine was mounted behind the cockpit, with the propeller pushing the aircraft through the air. This construction offered distinct advantages: the pilot’s view forward was unobstructed and the aircraft allowed for heavy forward-firing armament.
However, the pusher design and the consequent impossibility of leaving the cockpit in case of an emergency also meant a challenge for Saab’s engineers. It required innovative, out-of-the-box thinking: the solution came with the development and implementation of an ejection seat, making the Saab 21 the world’s first aircraft equipped with this unique and novel technology.
The aircraft lifted off for its maiden flight on 30 July 1943 with test pilot Claes Smith. During the takeoff, the wrong flap setting resulted in the prototype running into a fence at the end of the runway, damaging the trycicle landing gear. The subsequent test flight ended with a successful landing. The aircraft was in service with the Swedish Air Force from 1945 until 1954. Overall, 302 of these aircrafts were built.
In 1947, the aircraft was extensively redesigned and fitted with a de Havilland Goblin turbojet engine. Under the designation Saab 21R, the resulting aircraft was one of the few jet fighters successfully converted from a piston-powered aircraft. The Saab 21R, which entered into service in August 1950, could reach a maximum speed of up to 800 km/h.
Data and performance of the Saab 21
Engine: Daimler-Benz DB 605B, 1,455 hp
Max. take-off weight: 4,413 kg
Max. speed: 640 km/h
Max. altitude: 11,000 m