Sweden has a total of seven mountain hangars, two built during World War II and five more added during the Cold War. Säve has two such hangars, one built in 1943 near the current control tower with the protected areas on a level with the taxiways. We were bound for the later and deeper Cold War one, built between 1950 and 1955. The underground protected area amounts to over 22,000 square metres. Lars has published a splendid book describing the history of all the hangars but sadly it is currently out of print.
The hangar has two entrances – we used the eastern one that has an offset from a sweeping underground approach ramp designed to help deflect bomb blast. It was also used to transport planes to the runway (left), or to the main road network (right) to evacuate the base/hangar if the runways had been destroyed. The entrances are protected behind 90-tonne blast doors which lead to a ramp descending to the hangars themselves 30 metres beneath the surface.
The airfield was home to three squadrons of Saab J29 fighters, popularly known as the Flygande Tunnan or Flying Barrel because of their chunky fuselages. Two of these squadrons were surface based, both on the airfield and at dispersals in nearby woods. The third squadron was protected by being based in the underground hangar. The planes would have been towed up the steep slope from the hangars to the surface and it was down this slope that we descended, viewing a dozen or more Swedish planes.
As well as the J29 (of which 660 were built) these included many types familiar to anyone who frequented air shows in the 1970s. These included a number of iconic Saab JA 35 Drakens (Dragons) and the Saab JA 37 Viggens (Lightnings). The ramp and indeed the whole shelter was protected by both water and foam fire systems, with curtains once separating the space to prevent any fire spreading.
Like the civil defence shelters visited earlier in the weekend, the whole complex was built in reinforced concrete, within a larger chamber blasted from the native granite. At the bottom of the ramp, three parallel excavations held eight hangars at right angles to the entrance ramp. Turntables would have allowed the planes to turn the sharp corners with ease.
Visitors are able and indeed encouraged to sit in many of the cockpits of the museum fleet. As well as more planes, these underground hangars now hold all manner of displays including helicopters, ejector seats, flying controls and even a collection of flight simulators. The complex as a whole encompasses a massive 22,000 square metres of protected space.
Control and Command As well as the hangars used as exhibition space, we were able to visit the impressive underground command centre which mimicked the surface tower and as a nice touch still has a channel transmitting live air traffic exchanges. The complex had a second exit ramp for planes which was accessible but without display aircraft.
There is also an emergency exit for personnel, with a double staircase rising through the granite which, although outside the public area, was opened up especially for us. Also ‘off-piste’ was the extensive plant and machinery area including two massive generators powered by ex-submarine six-cylinder diesels. As well as the usual air filtration and handling and potable water supply, there was also a substantial set-up to supply the water and foam fire-extinguishing systems.
Once more we managed an underground meal, this time in the catering area of the current museum. After this we had another hour or so of free time so members could explore their own particular interests. Your author had a go on a flight simulator and managed to crash on landing but did successfully navigate beneath the nearby suspension bridge at 50 feet or so!
The underground hangar closed in 1969, the result of analysis that concluded that the fighter squadrons were better scattered around rather than in a single location. As such, many roads were designated as emergency air-strips to allow dispersal in times of tension.
Today the underground hangar houses the splendid Aeromuseum.