With seven two-seat Gripen D aircraft delivered out of a total of nine two-seaters and 17 Gripen C single-seat fighters on order, the Gripen system has not yet been declared operational in the South African Air Force (SAAF). Yet, one of the Gripen D’s is believed to have scored its first kill, a bird.
It is understood that the aircraft was on a night-flying training sortie in February when it suffered a bird-strike. An owl badly damaged a canard on the aircraft. In a testament to the strength of the aircraft, the pilot was unaware of the bird-strike until after he landed, when the damage was discovered by the ground crew.
It is believed that the aircraft was repaired by swapping out the canard with a spare.
Apart from one Gripen D based at the Test Flight and Development Centre (TFDC) at AFB Overberg near Bredasdorp in the southern Cape, the squadron tasked to fly and operationally evaluate the Gripen system is 2 Squadron based at AFB Makhado in the Limpopo Province.
With deliveries still continuing, logistical support for the aircraft is still being put into place. Ground-crew and maintenance personal are in the process of being trained, as are the pilots. Despite these issues, the aircraft are still being flown regularly and training is proceeding apace.
However, operations have not been without hiccups.
One of the aircraft may have been damaged at Makhado in late May when it was reversed into a hangar whilst being towed by a tractor. The extent of damage caused is unknown.
The first single-seat Saab Gripen C destined for the SAAF made its maiden flight at Linköping in Sweden on 11 July. A Saab spokesman says the aircraft will undergo a short flight test programme ahead of delivery to South Africa in October.
The SAAF has not responded to enquiries relating to the two incidents.