Saab J 29 Tunnan in flight at the Swedish Armed Forces' Airshow 2010 (Media credit/Gnolam via Wikimedia Commons)

Saab J 29 Tunnan in flight at the Swedish Armed Forces’ Airshow 2010 (Media credit/Gnolam via Wikimedia Commons)

The aptly-named J 29 Tunnan was the first Swedish jet to see combat. The Saab 29 was called “Flygande Tunnan,” or “Flying Barrel.” To say it is a bit chubby is an understatement, but despite the fat kid jokes and laughs a flying barrel might get from the other fighters, Saab’s Barrel was nimble, fast, and maneuverable in both fighter and attack roles during the Cold War.

The J 29 was Sweden’s second turbojet fighter, after the twin-boomed Saab J 21R. An American pre-WWII navy fighter, the Grumman F3F was also called the Flying Barrel.

Sweden stayed out of World War II, but that didn’t mean the Scandinavian country was weak. Sweden had maintained 800 combat-ready planes in 15 fighter divisions by 1945, seeing airpower as a key to preventing invasion and its own entrance into the war. In late 1945, Sweden commissioned Project “JxR,” seeking proposals for a jet-powered fighter. Saab submitted two proposals, and the Barrel came up as the best choice. The aircraft was a resounding success, with 661 Tunnans built between 1950 and 1956, more than any other Saab aircraft.

German research obtained by Sweden indicated what other powers were learning in their own fighters — a swept wing was better than a straight wing. The J 29 suddenly gave Sweden a fighter that could match wits with the best American (F-86) and Soviet (MiG 15) fighters of the time. In the 1950s, the Flying Barrel-stocked Flygvapnet (Swedish Air Force) was widely considered as fifth best in the world, behind only the USA, UK, France, and USSR.

The Tunnan served from 1950-1976. Austria purchased 30 in 1961, and they served the Österreichische Luftstreitkräfte until 1972.

By 1961, however, the Tunnan was already starting to become obsolete as the jet age ushered in dozens of new aircraft over a very short time period. But the Barrel proved its strength from 1961-64, when nine J 29Bs and two S 29C reconnaissance craft were sent to the Democratic Republic of Congo for a United Nations peacekeeping mission. The Tunnan was very effective, using both guns and rockets to attack enemy ground positions. No aircraft were lost to combat, despite heavy AAA and small arms fire from the ground. When the peacekeeping mission was over, some of the Tunnans were simply destroyed at their base, as the planes were no longer needed, and Sweden deemed it too expensive to take them back. One original UN-marked Tunnan is on display at the Flygvapenmuseum, the Swedish Air Force Museum.



Crew: One
Length: 36 ft 1 in
Wingspan: 33 ft 7 in
Height: 12 ft 4 in
Empty weight: 10,680 lb
Max. takeoff weight: 18,465 lb
Engine: One Volvo Aero RM2B turbojet, 6,070 lbf


Maximum speed: 660 mph
Range: 685 mi
Ceiling: 50,850 ft


  • 4x Hispano Mark V 20 mm cannons
  • 75 mm (3 in) unguided rockets
  • Rb 24 air-to-air missiles (later AIM-9 Sidewinders)
  • 145 mm (5.8 in) anti-armor rockets, 150 mm HE rockets, 180 mm HE antiship rockets

Essential Reading

There aren’t many books that single out the Tunnan. “Air Force Tac Recce Aircraft” is a good “inside baseball” reference that mentions the reconnaissance variant of the Tunnan.

Online Resources:

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