+++ DISCLAIMER +++
Nothing you see here is real, even though the conversion or the presented background story might be based on historical facts. BEWARE!
With the end of the conflict in Africa in early 1974, the Portuguese Armed Forces went through a reorganization and shifted their focus back from counter-insurgency to honoring Portugal’s commitments to NATO and preparing for a possible conflict in Europe against the Warsaw Pact. The Portuguese Air Force’s F-86F Sabre and G.91 fighters were considered to be outdated in both the air defense and ground attack roles to face Soviet forces in the European operations theater. Furthermore, only a few Sabre fighters were actually in service due to problems with the engines and lack of spare parts.
After the revolution Portugal faced financial problems and the new government didn’t see the modernization of the armed forces as a priority. As such the Air Force counted on the support from the United States through the military assistance programs and the offsets and compensations for the use of the Lajes Air Base. In June 1974 the Air Force Chief of Staff, General Manuel Diogo Neto, informed the US Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) in Lisbon of the interest in acquiring one F-5E Tiger II squadron and one F-4E Phantom II squadron, as well as T-38A Talon and T-41, to replace the T-33 Shooting Star and the DHC-1 Chipmunk, respectively.
The United States’ NATO delegation was worried about Portugal’s capability in contributing to NATO operations and felt that the intention to purchase either the F-4E Phantom II or the F-5E Tiger II to replace the F-86F Sabre was inappropriate, given that the USA felt that the A-7D Corsair II or the A-4N Skyhawk provided a better platform for the Portuguese role in an eventual conflict with the Warsaw Pact, which was to mainly protect the Atlantic Ocean resupply routes from the United States to Europe.
By 1976 the Northrop F-5E Tiger II had become the sole preferred aircraft by the military command, which believed that this aircraft could be supplied by The Pentagon at a lower cost through the Military Assistance Program (MAP) and the Foreign Military Sales (FMS). To this end, Portugal leased Northrop T-38A Talon jet trainers, as part of the "Peace Talon" program, to establish and provide supersonic-capable lead-in fighter training and to eventually provide operational conversion.
Later in March 1976, a camouflage scheme for the F-5 was published in the Diário da República, stirring public awareness and political pressure. Nonetheless, at the time the FAP had already started analyzing the acquisition of the A-7 Corsair II as an alternative to the F-5, per the suggestion of the United States. This led to the acquisition of 30 A-7A Corsair II for 49 million dollars. But even with the A-7 taking precedence, the FAP continued interest in acquiring the F-5 for the air defense role and as a proper replacement for the outdated F-86F Sabre.
As such, a delegation was sent to Norway in July 1979 to evaluate F-5A/B aircraft of the Royal Norwegian Air Force. This offer was turned down, since the offered 11 F-5As turned out to require considerable repairs due to cracks found in the airframe. Furthermore, the FAP was particularly interested in twin-seat F-5 fighters, but the RNoAF did not plan on retiring any of its F-5B aircraft at that time. In November 1984, the United States offered four F-5As with spare engines to Portugal, but this offer was also declined, since the aircraft had already logged over 3,000 flight hours and needed thorough repair, too. In the same year, the RNoAF made a new offer of 15 to 20 F-5A/Bs, but this time the FAP declined, once more due to the airframes’ age and poor condition.
Unable to purchase any F-5 in decent condition, the FAP studied in the meantime the procurement of other second-hand fighters like the French Mirage IIIs or the SAAB 35 Draken. Negotiations with France, even though the preferred partner and with the intention to procure Mirage V fighter bombers, too, went nowhere. Eventually, a deal with Sweden could be settled in 1985 and the Saab 35 was chosen as the FAP’s new air superiority fighter.
The Draken had been developed during the 1940s and 1950s to replace Sweden’s first generation of jet-powered fighter aircraft, the Saab J 29 Tunnan and, later, the fighter variant (J 32 B) of the Saab 32 Lansen. Fully developed in Sweden, the Draken was introduced into service with the Swedish Air Force in 1960 under the designation J 35 (the prefix J standing for “Jakt”, meaning “pursuit”). Early models were intended purely to perform air defense missions and the type was considered to be a capable dogfighter for the Cold War era. Later models were technically very advanced and the J 35 underwent a constant development that led to a long line of variants with several upgrades.
By the 1980s, the Swedish Air Force’s Drakens had largely been replaced by the more advanced Saab 37 Viggen fighter, while the introduction of the more capable Saab JAS 39 Gripen fighter was expected in service within a decade, although delayed. Many J 35s of earlier versions, primarily the D type as well as some early J 35 F, were therefore mothballed and/or offered for sale. Takers were Finland and Austria, some Draken also sold to private operators in the United States. A dedicated export version for Denmark, rather a strike aircraft than an interceptor, was built, too.
The FAP was interested in the J 35 F, since these aircraft were the most modern Draken variant at the time and the relatively young airframes promised a long service life. An initial batch of eight aircraft – six single seaters plus a pair of two-seat trainers – was leased by Portugal and delivered in 1986. These were effectively refurbished former Swedish Saab J 35 F interceptors and Sk 35 C trainers. Internally at Saab, the Draken versions for Portugal were designated Saab J or Sk 35 XP (“X” for export and “P” for Portugal), but this designation was not adopted officially.
For Portugal, the machines were stripped off of specialized Swedish equipment and instead outfitted with NATO-compatible avionics and other updates like the Hawé mods I & II on the P/S-01/011 radar sets to improve its resistance to ECM. In contrast to the Swedish Saab J 35 F, the avionics that were necessary to deploy the Rb 27 and Rb 28 missiles (Hughes AIM-4 Falcon with radar and IR guidance) were removed and the second gun reinstalled. The J 35 F’s IR sensor under the nose was retained and a Sherloc radar warning system of French origin, as well as chaff/flare dispensers, were added, too.
In Portuguese service, the machines were called Saab 35 FP and TP and dubbed “Dragõe”. The fighters’ main armament were, beyond the internal 30 mm cannons, AIM-9 Sidewinders. Typically, a pair of these missiles was carried under the wings, together with a pair of 500 l drop tanks under the fuselage, since the Draken had no in-flight refueling capability and just a range of 1.120 km (696 mi) in clean configuration and with internal fuel only. The machines retained a secondary strike capability, though, with iron bombs of up to 1.000 lb caliber, napalm tanks and unguided missiles in pods. The trainers were unarmed but could carry an optional single 500 l drop tank on a ventral hardpoint.
The leased aircraft batch arrived in bare metal finish, but, due to the country’s proximity to the open sea, they quickly received an overall coat with a grey anti-corrosive lacquer. They were allocated to Esquadra 201 "Falcões" at Monte Real air base, where they replaced the last operational F-86F’s. They were officially allocated to an interceptor role, but effectively they were primarily used for conversion training, together with the T-38’s which had been based at Monte Real since 1977, too.
With enough trained Draken crews at hand, a second batch of former Swedish Draken (this time twelve single seaters plus two more trainers) was bought and delivered in 1987, the machines from the initial leasing batch were eventually bought, too. This small fleet was split between Esquadra 201 and 103 (the latter at Beja air base), so that the FAP could now field two fully operational interceptor squadrons. Upon arrival, the new machines received a tactical camouflage with toned-down national and the J 35s from the initial batch were re-painted accordingly.
The ongoing process of the modernization of the Portuguese Air Force also included the launching of the SICCAP/PoACCS (Portugal Air Command and Control System) project, which was a pioneer in adopting the new architecture and concept of the NATO ACCS, being intended to replace Portugal’s old SDA air defense system. As part of these project, the air surveillance and detection units were re-equipped, including the reception of new radars and the air control center at Monsanto was enhanced. The Saab 35 FPs became an integral part of this system, so that interceptors could be guided from the ground towards potential targets.
This scenario did not last long, though: The end of the Cold War caused the Portuguese Air Force to accompany the shift of the focus of the Portuguese Armed Forces from a conventional war in Europe against the Warsaw Pact forces to the international peace enforcement missions. The FAP started to participate in a number of missions by itself or in support of missions led by the Army and the Navy, but the Saab 35s were not involved since they remained, due to their small number, dedicated to Portugal’s air space patrol and defense.
With the arrival of the first F-16 Fighting Falcon in 1994, the Saab 35s, as well as the FAP’s A-7 Corsair IIs, were gradually retired and fully replaced until 1998.
The last Saab 35 in Swedish service was retired in 1999, the last Saab 35 Draken was withdrawn from military use in Austria in 2005 – 50 years after the type first flew. However, several aircraft still fly today in private operators’ service.
Length: 15.35 m (50 ft 4 in)
Wingspan: 9.42 m (30 ft 11 in)
Height: 3.89 m (12 ft 9 in)
Wing area: 49.2 m2 (530 ft²)
Empty weight: 7,865 kg (17,339 lb)
Gross weight: 11,000 kg (24,251 lb)
Max takeoff weight: 11,914 kg (26,266 lb)
1× Svenska Flygmotor RM6C (license-built Rolls Royce Avon with Swedish afterburner)
turbojet engine, 56.5 kN (12,700 lbf) thrust dry, 78.4 kN (17,600 lbf) with afterburner
Maximum speed: 2,450 km/h (1,520 mph, 1,320 kn) at 11,000 m (36,089 ft)
Maximum speed: Mach 2
Range: 1.120 km (605 nmi; 696 mi); clean, internal fuel only
Ferry range: 2,750 km (1,480 nmi; 1,710 mi) with four external 500 l drop tanks
Service ceiling: 20,000 m (66,000 ft)
Rate of climb: 199 m/s (39,200 ft/min)
Wing loading: 231.6 kg/m² (47.4 lb/ft²)
Takeoff roll: 800 m (2,625 ft)
2× 30 mm AKAN M/55 ADEN cannon with 100 rounds per gun
4× hardpoints with a capacity of 2,900 kg (6,393 lb); typical interceptor ordnance:
2× 500 l ventral drop tanks and 2× AIM-9 Sidewinder under the wings
The kit and its assembly:
This what-if model came as a spontaneous idea when I browsed through the WWW for inspiration. I stumbled upon the history of the Portuguese Air Force and the fact that it did not operate any dedicated interceptor for 15 years – this task was taken over by the PAF’s A-7s(!) until the F-16 arrived in the Nineties This gap offered a lot of whiffing potential, and I had actually considered to build a whiffy FAP Mirage III for some time, since I knew that this was, together with the F-5, the favored type. However, there was also serious consideration of the Saab 35 as potential fighter alternative, too!
I found this idea so weird/exotic that I decided to build a Draken in FAP colors. The kit is the Hasegawa model, in a Revell re-boxing. I also considered the vintage Revell Saab 35 (a mold from 1957!), but after I saw the kit in a current re-boxing from Polish company Akkura, I took the chance of a reasonably priced Hasegawa kit instead. While the Akkura kit is crisply molded, it would take a lot of work to create a satisfactory “modern” Draken from it. I also had a Heller kit in store (my personal favorite), but I did not want to “sacrifice” it for this project.
The Hasegawa/Revell kit was basically built OOB. The kit is a simple, straightforward affair, with fine recessed engravings and good fit, but it’s IMHO far from extraordinary. It also has its flaws: the dashboard is totally blank, any instruments have to be created by yourself or taken from the decal sheet. There are ejection marks on the wheels and the landing gear covers, and the fit quality of some areas (e .g. the seam between the fuselage and the afterburner section) calls for PSR. The two-piece canopy is thin, very clear and fits well, the landing gear is sufficiently detailed – including the interior of the main landing gear wells.
For the FAP version I did not change much; I just replaced the seat (which OOB looks fine, I just wanted “something else”), added a radar warning antenna to the fin’s tip and chaff dispensers around the tail section, all carved from styrene profiles.
Unfortunately, the Revell re-boxing just comes with a pair of launch rails and underwing pylons, but no AA weapons at all. That’s acceptable for the anniversary machine that you can build from the kit, but leaves the other option, a grey, Swedish J35 H, without any ordnance.
The drop tanks on my build are OOB, together with their ventral hardpoints, and I added a pair of decent AIM-9J Sidewinders from a Hasegawa air-to-air weapon set for a suitable interceptor ordnance. The launch rails were recycled from the kit: they are actually missile rails with attachment points to mount them under the air intakes. The rails were separated and then attached to the OOB underwing pylons, this worked very well.
Painting and markings:
The livery was not an easy choice. Initially I favored a uniform pale grey livery with blue squadron markings, inspired by the late F-86s of FAP 51 squadron, but found this, despite being a plausible look for an interceptor, to look quite boring. For the same reason I rejected an Austria-style “Hill II” scheme or a light-grey USN-inspired “Compass Ghost” livery. The Hellenic “Ghost” wraparound scheme was another potential option, but I recently used something similar on another whif build (the Catalonian L-159 ALCA), and it would not have a typically Portuguese Cold War look.
Keeping in style with the FAP’s livery fashion during the Eighties, I rather settled upon a USAF SEA scheme, which was carried by many PAF aircraft during the Eighties, e .g. the A-7P, the G.91, and their replacement from 1993 onwards, the Alpha Jet. Instead of a wraparound version for ground attack aircraft, I rather gave the Draken light grey undersides.
The camouflage pattern itself was improvised, since I did not want to copy an existing delta wing aircraft (e.g. the USAF’s F-102 or F-106 SEA pattern, or the Belgian Mirage Vs). The basic colors are Humbrol 75 (Bronze Green; the authentic tone is FS 34079, but this lacks IMHO contrast to the lighter green), 117 (FS 34102) and 118 (FS 30219) from above, and Humbrol 28 (FS 36622) underneath.
A large ventral section was, typical for the J 35, left in bare metal, since leaking fuel and oil would frequently eat away any paint there. The section was painted with Steel Metallizer (ModelMaster) and later treated with Matt Aluminum Metallizer (Humbrol).
Internal details like the cockpit and the landing gear were painted with the help of Swedish and Austrian Saab 35 reference pictures. The cockpit tub was painted in a dark, bluish green (Humbrol 76) with grey-green (Revell 67) side walls. A piece of paper tissue covers the cockpit’s back wall, since the kit leaves a visible and rather ugly seam there, which is only partly hidden behind the seat.
The landing gear and its respective wells were painted with Humbrol 56 (Aluminum Dope), parts of the struts were painted in a bright turquoise (a mix of Humbrol 89 and 80; looks quite weird, but I like such details!). The front wheel received a dark green mudguard (Humbrol 30), the same color was also partially used on the extended emergency current generator. Missiles and launch rails were painted in gloss white (Humbrol 22).
As per usual, the model received a light black ink wash and some post-shading in order to emphasize the panels and dramatize the surface. Some extra weathering was done around the gun ports and the jet nozzle with graphite.
For markings I used the contemporary A-7Ps as benchmark: they were minimal, there were even no squadron markings or other decorations, and I think they even lacked roundels on their wings!
I gave the Draken slightly more markings: The small FAP roundels come from a PrintScale A/T-37 sheet, the fin flashes are from a TL Modellbai sheet and the tactical codes belong to a Japanese T-4 trainer. Most stencils were taken from the Revell OOB sheet, which also includes decals for the reddish sealer around the cockpit windows.
I didn’t want to leave the Draken without any squadron marking, though, so I gave it a blue band on top of the fin, as a reminiscence of the FAP 51 squadron’s markings, the former final F-86 operator which became 201 squadron in the early Eighties. These were simply done with layered white and blue decal stripes.
Finally, the model was sealed with matt acrylic varnish (Italeri), except for the black radome, which received a sheen varnish coat.
A relatively simple whif project, since the model was mostly built OOB with just minor cosmetic changes. However, despite its exotic operator, the USAF South East Asia scheme suits the Draken well, the whole thing looks disturbingly convincing!?
It’s also a kind of tribute build for “Sport16ing”, apparently a great fan of my what-if builds who frequently re-posts pictures and background stories (with kind permission to do so!) at deviantart..
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