Just when it is about to get dark, a Gripen pilot gives a signal to switch on the Auxiliary Power unit (APU). The characteristic howl of the APU almost drowns out every other sound as the aircraft performs a self-test to detect any malfunctions before take-off. Once the pilot is ready, the engine is powered on and all the participating Gripens begin to taxi towards the runway and take off one by one, with afterburners roaring, disappearing in the dark sky, the report says.
As per the report, operating Gripens during night time is almost the same as operating them during day time, except for the visual communication which can be a little different. Hand signals (used during the day) change into flashes. And of course there are Night Vision Goggles (NVGs) that pilots use. SwAF pilots need to go through a dedicated training before they are considered combat-ready using NVGs.
“NVGs are very useful. For example, during a Beyond Visual Range (BVR) combat, NVGs increase a pilot’s ability to detect a missile from longer distances. During a Close Air Support (CAS) mission, NVGs help to visually detect laser beams from other aircraft or from ground,” says Robert Krznaric, Commander, 172 Fighter squadron at Swedish Armed Forces.
The report adds that maintenance staff play a very important role behind Gripen’s high availability. When four Gripen fighters had to be all ready for the recent night time missions, the maintenance staff had to make sure all the checks were done so that the flights could be performed without any technical problems.
Once the first night time sorties are completed, the aircraft land one by one and the maintenance staff responsible for each aircraft makes a note of the technical issues (if any) faced by the pilot during the mission. All the checks are done again, and the issues are resolved before the next sortie.
Gripens stationed at all the air wings F7, F17 and F21 participate in these night time exercises that are usually conducted between September and March on Thursdays. However, the latest training sessions at the SwAF Air Base happened continuously for an entire week. “This way, the combat squads receive a concentrated amount of training to be operational 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without restrictions, while maintaining a high level of flight safety. During a week of night flying with a high rate of aircraft availability, a squadron can perform at almost the same level of proficiency as during an entire winter season where they fly only on Thursdays. Concentrated night flights offer much better results than irregular flights,” Commander Robert Krznaric says.
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