The design of the SAAB Safir was started in 1944, when it was obvious that the war in Europe was coming to an end. The aircraft's design was led by A.J. Andersson, who had worked for Bücker, where he had designed the Bü 181 Bestman. The resemblance between the "Safir" and the “Bestman” is therefore not a coincidence. The Safir is constructed from aluminium, with the control surfaces and aft part of the wings in fabric and it has retractable nose-wheel landing gear.
The first prototype was flown on the 20 November 1945 and between 1946 and 1948 SAAB built 48 Safir 91 aircraft powered by the147 hp de Havilland Gipsy Major engine.
The SAAB Safir was designed as a trainer but the first ten 91's ordered by the Swedish Air Force (TP-91) were used as a passenger aircraft. The Netherlands Air Transport School purchased eight and the Ethiopian air force sixteen. The rest were sold to civilian owners. The TP-91 was retired by the Swedish Air Force in 1960. Today, only a few civil-registered 91As are still flying.
Photo © Keith Wilson
The Swedish Air Force decided that the original 91 model was not powerful enough. In order to meet the new demand, SAAB developed a more powerful version, the 91B. This model was powered by the six-cylinder Lycoming O-435-A, 190 hp engine. There was also a modified canopy and a small dorsal fin. The 91C version was the same except the fuel tank was moved from behind the pilot to the wings. This alteration added a fourth seat behind the pilot.
One hundred and twenty 91B and C models were built between 1952 and 1954. Seventy-five of them were ordered by the Swedish Air Force and became their new basic trainer (SK-50).
One of the Swedish Airforce 91Bs was sold back to SAAB and was then exported to Japan as a research aircraft for high lift trials. It was trialled under the designation Nihon Hikoki X1G STOL and later transferred to the Japanese Air Force.
All of the Swedish Air Force SK50s left production with a yellow overall colour. Many people are still of the opinion that the correct colour scheme for the Safir should be yellow, with the engine cover in green, however very few are still in this livery. In 1955 production of 91B and C models was resumed in Sweden. The Swedish Air Force bought them in 1960 to be used as trainers (designated SK-50C). The Norwegian Air Force purchased twenty-five 91Bs during 1956-57 and five retired Swedish SK-50B later in 1979. The Finnish Air Force acquired twenty 91Cs in 1958. The Ethiopian Air Force bought ten 91Cs and a further six during 1963-66.
After the SK-50s had been replaced by the SK-61 Scottish Aviation Bulldog as a trainer in 1971, they were used as liaison aircraft until their retirement. The last SK-50B was retired in 1990, the last SK-50C, in 1992. After that they were sold to flying clubs, mostly affiliated with the Air Force.
In 1957 the last version of the SAAB 91 Safir was developed and designated the 91D. The power plant was the lighter Lycoming O-360-A1A 180 hp engine. It also featured a new brake system and manual rudder trim. The Finnish Air Force bought ten of this type and six more between 1962-63. Two of these were fitted with cameras and used as reconnaissance aircraft.
The Royal Flying School in the Netherlands purchased eighteen 91Ds, which were delivered during 1959-1960 to replace the older Tiger Moths, Harvards and 91As.
The Austrian Air Force bought twenty-four during 1964-1965, twelve were used as basic trainers and the rest as navigation trainers.
The Tunisian Air Force acquired fifteen, which were delivered in 1960 and1961.
The Safir was SAAB’s largest aircraft export success. A total of three hundred and twenty three Safirs were produced in four versions (A, B, C and D). They were sold to twenty-one countries and six Air Forces and ninety-nine served with the Swedish Air Force.
Photo © Keith Wilson
The Safir was also a popular aircraft with civilian pilots. The Dutch Civil Aviation School purchased eight 91As and in 1958, eighteen 91Ds, with smaller and lighter four-cylinder engines and more comprehensive civilian instrumentation. They purchased a further five in 1962 and they were flown until the eighties.
The Safir was also sold to Lufthansa and Air France for pilot training. Finland, Sweden’s neighbour to the east, bought 35 of the “D” version of the aircraft. The first was delivered in December 1958 and the rest arrived in three consecutive deliveries with the last 1963. Almost twenty years later, in 1982, fourteen were sold by auction, and three of them returned to Sweden .
Production of Safirs ended in 1966 and the last one was written off from the Swedish Air Force stock in 1993. Many were sold for a symbolic sum of money to flying clubs at Air Force bases.
Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia wanted the Swedes to organise a combined civil and military school of aviation in the country. Carl-Gustaf von Rosen was to be the liaison officer and at the beginning of 1946 pilots, technicians and staff personnel arrived in Addis Ababa in order to make the arrangements. An old Italian airfield at Bishoptu, south of Addis, was selected as the base. The SAAB 91A was the chosen aircraft and 5 were ordered. They were SAAB’s first export order.
When the first Safirs were flown to Ethiopia, they were equipped with neither radio nor navigational equipment.
This Ethiopian experience in the history of the Safir is also remembered for the fact that in May 1947 Count Carl-Gustaf von Rosen set a world record, flying non-stop from Stockholm to Addis Ababa in a SAAB Safir.
In total, forty-eight Safirs in several versions were sold to Ethiopia, the last of them delivered in July 1966. In September of the previous year, the last of the Swedish technicians had left the country but the Safirs continued in service far into the eighties.
Serial No 91-441
1962 to 1983 Finnish Air Force (Ilmavoimat), Tail No: SF-32. April 1983 sold for civilian use.
Finnish Reg: OH-SFK (1983 to 1984)
Swedish Reg: SE-IOC (1984 to 2003), Malmö Aeroleasing AB, Malmö, Aircomfort AB, Rosersberg, H Rydow, Järfälla, D Kjell, Bromma. February 2003 exported to Denmark
Danish Reg: OY-DBT (2003 to 2015), Jans Anders Magnussen, Stauning. July 2015 exported to the UK.
UK Reg: G-XCID (the UK's G prefix and then 91 in roman numerals followed by a D), John Hunter
SAAB 91D Safir
Engine: Lycoming O-360-A1A, 180 hp (134 kW)
Span: 10.6m (34 ft 9 in)
Length: 8.03m (26 ft 4 in)
Wing area: 13.6 sq m (146.3 sq.ft)
Height: 2.2m (7 ft 3 in)
Empty weight: 710Kg (1,570 lb)
Maximum Take-off weight: 1205 Kg (2657 lb)
Maximum speed: 140 kts (265 kph)
Cruising speed: 110 kts (235 kph)
Initial climb: 800 fpm (4.04 m/s)
Landing speed: 49 kts (90 kph)
Range: 570 nautical miles (1060 Km. This will be extended with a ferry tank)
Service ceiling: 16,400 ft (5000 m)
Minimum Take Off Roll: 590 ft (180 m)
Aerobatic +6 -3g
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