Saab J21A by Heller

1/72 scale
Kit No. 261
Cost: $10.00
Decals: One version – Flygvapnet (Swedish Air Force)
Comments: Older kit, unusual twin-boom fighter; raised panel lines; decals for national insignia are out of register, aftermarket replacements highly recommended.


Design work on what would be a revolutionary Saab fighter began during 1941, and the prototype Saab J-21 took its first flight on July 30, 1943. Ironically, although Saab was called upon to develop a modern fighter to help preserve Swedish neutrality during the troubled wartime years, the result did not enter service until after World War II was over. The J-21 was Sweden’s first fighter aircraft with twin booms, the first with a tricycle landing gear, and one of the first production fighter aircraft in the world to be fitted with an ejection seat — possibly beating out the British Gloster Meteor in this distinction.

The prototype J-21 and most subsequent models, with the exception of the J-21R, were powered by Germany’s Daimler-Benz DB 605 in-line engine, the same powerplant as that installed in the Messerschmitt Bf109. Although Sweden was officially neutral during World War II, arrangements such as the provisions of aircraft engines, and Sweden’s supplying Germany with steel and machine parts throughout the war, called that neutrality into question.

Whatever the politics were, two facts were inescapable: Sweden did not have the military might to challenge Nazi Germany, and being trapped between Nazi-occupied Norway (from May 1940) and Soviet-occupied Finland (from March 1940), may well have had a compromised form of neutrality forced upon her as a matter of survival. Facing this situation, the Swedish government probably felt compelled to grant Hitler certain concessions, trade in vital war materials key among them.

The type’s first flight was marked by a longer than expected take-off run due to improperly adjusted flaps and the smashing of one of the landing gear against a fence at the end of the runway; the prototype subsequently survived an improvised two-point landing. The first fighter squadrons were equipped with the propeller-driven J-21A in December 1945, and even before it entered service the decision was made to proceed with development of a jet-powered version.

Like the American P-38 Lightning, the location of the engine in a location other than the nose freed this section up to produce a fairly heavily armed fighter. Accordingly, the J-21 was equipped with four Hispano 13.2mm heavy machine guns and one Hispano 20mm cannon. Later versions were fitted with Swedish M.45 Bofors guns as well as underwing rocket and bomb racks. The Saab J21 remained in service with the Flygvapnet until at least 1953, when most of the force was replaced with the jet-powered deHavilland Vampire.

The J-21R
The jet-powered version was subjected to significant re-design to accomodate deHavilland’s Goblin turbojet; air intakes were placed on each side of the fuselage; the tail plane between the twin booms was raised to the very top of the tail fins in an effort to avoid the jet exhaust; many other changes resulted in a similar but entirely new aircraft. The maiden flight of the J-21R took place in March 1947, but due to the required re-engineering of the airframe, it did not enter service until 1951. While it provided valuable experience with jets, the J-21R was essentially an improvisation of a propeller-driven design, and was withdrawn from service by 1953 in favor of the British deHavilland Vampire.

Specifications (J21A)

Wingspan: 38.75 in.
Length: 34 ft. 3 in.
Height: 13 ft. 1.5 in.
Powerplant: Daimler Benz DB 605 of 1, 475 lbs. thrust
Armament: One Hispano 20mm cannon, four 13.2mm machine guns
Maximum speed: 400 mph
Crusing speed: 300 mph
Rate of climb: 50 feet per second
Service ceiling: 36,000 feet

The Kit

Heller’s Saab J-21A is molded in dark green and consists of 43 injection molded parts. The kit has raised panel lines and simulated fabric control surfaces which are nicely done. The cockpit consists of a bucket seat, control stick, a rear bulkhead and an attempt at raised detail on a main instrument panel, all of which are to be cemented onto a narrow, plain cockpit floor. The landing gear are basic and the pusher propeller has a rather large diameter spinner, reflecting the fact that it forms the end of the fuselage.

There is a three-part canopy, and the instructions wisely recommend a nose weight to avoid this kit becoming a tail-sitter. The paint guide for the kit offers Heller colors only, without a legend as to what colors numbers 7003, 7019, 7030 and 7064 make reference to. Fortunately the colors on the well-preserved and well done box art (from the black series) hint at dark field green upper surfaces with hellblau undersides, but modellers with a few other Heller kits in their stash will likely be able to fall back on other, more well-appointed instruction sheets. For those who do not, 7003 is red; 7019 is royal blue; 7030 is field green; and 7064 is hellblau.


A great kit from the early Cold War era (although it’s a pure WWII design), great for a quick weekend build.


Profile Publications: The Saab 21 A & R, Number 138; Copyright Bo Widfeldt, 1966.

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