100th Anniversary Finnish Air Force - Jyväskylä-Tikkakoski, Finland
On June 16th and 17th the Ilmavoimat held its 100th Anniversary Air Show at the base of Jyväskylä-Tikkakoski in Central Finland, about 300 kilometers North of Helsinki. In fact this airport has a double function, Jyväskylä Airport has a terminal from which a small number of daily domestic flights arrive and depart towards Helsinki-Vantaa Airport. The military Tikkakoski airbase is the home of the Finnish Air Force Training Wing. This being my first visit to Finland I hoped to photograph as many military aircraft as possible, and my expectations were surely fulfilled.
The show weekend already started on Thursday when a small group of spotters were allowed to attend the arrivals and on Friday a Spotters- and Press Day was organized. Upon my arrival at the civil side of the airport, were the spectators were positioned, it became quickly clear that photography was going to be quite challenging, as for almost the complete day the sun was straight in your lens. Weather conditions were a bit mixed, Thursday was sunny with some clouds, Friday was quite cloudy, and the Saturday it was hot.... very hot, but sunny ! For this report I decided to use pictures of the three days.
As this show was intended to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Ilmavoimat quite a number of interesting historic aircraft were present. The early days were represented by a Fokker D.VII replica flown by Mikael Carlson from Sweden, who owns a number of Blériot XI replicas. The second aircraft in this segment is the only airworthy Gloster Gauntlet Mk.II in existence in the world. During the Finnish Winter War (November 1939-March 1940 when Finland was invaded by Russia), 24 Gauntlets were donated by South Africa, but they arrived too late for the conflict. The aircraft where then used as trainers until 1945. Unfortunately the weather conditions on the days I attended didn't allow the aircraft to fly, the wind was too strong and the pilot wisely decided to do only a few taxi runs. To my surprise the pilot, a former Air Force Test Pilot, then joined the present spotters and followed the show together
with the rest of us.
The third historic aircraft is another unique one, the Valtion Lentokonetehdas (V.L.) Viima II. This trainer made its first flight in 1937 and 22 were build for the air force. The type remained in service until 1962 (!) and VI-17 is now the only airworthy example. Noteworthy is that the same aircraft once had a Belgian owner and was based at Wevelgem Airport, now it's owned by an English pilot who lives in Finland.
This historic part was followed by a large trainer formation from then and now. This was no surprise as the Training Wing is based at Tikkakoski, it is composed of Hävittäjälentolaivue 41 (HävLLv 41) that has three Flights, two equipped with the Hawk and one with the Valmet L70 Vinka. The formation was led by a quartet of Saab 91D Safirs. This aircraft was in use from 1958 until 1982 as a primary trainer and liaison aircraft. Several of these aircraft remained in use with private owners and this in full military colors. A fifth example of the Safir could be found on the static display.
The second part of the trainer formation was formed by four Valmet L70 Vinkas. The Vinka is the current primary trainer of the air force and I really hoped to see a few of these aircraft. The air force uses the Vinka since 1979, but its days are numbered as in late 2018 the type will be taken out of service. The formation flight was followed by a solo display, so the score ended with five different Vinkas in one day !
Last aircraft in the primary trainer section is the replacement for the Vinka. In late 2017 the first of 28 Grob G115E Tutors were delivered from the United Kingdom. These aircraft already had a first career in the Royal Air Force where they were used in the Central Flying School and the many University Air Squadrons. Unfortunately over the weekend we only saw one aircraft as all the other aircraft are undergoing a cockpit upgrade at Patria, also located at Tikkakoski.
The historic jet trainer display was formed by a duo of former Finnish Air Force Fouga CM170-5 Magisters. Already in November 1958 Finland ordered a first series of Magisters from France. In several batches, many of them build under license, 80 aircraft were acquired between 1958-1967, who remained in service until 1988. Many of these aircraft left Finland, but at this date two airworthy aircraft remain in the country and they flew a magnificent display.
Already in the mid seventies Finland started the procedure to find a successor for the Fouga and in 1977 a total of 50 British Aerospace (now BAE Systems) Hawk Mk.51s were bought. These aircraft are best known for their use by the 'Midnight Hawks' display team, who perform on a regular basis at airshows in Europe. On Saturday the plan was to close the show with a mixed formation of the Midnight Hawks with the Solo Display F18C Hornet, but then disaster struck. The first three Hawks took off without a problem, but the last aircraft remained on the runway much longer than normal and then pulled up steeply. During the take off one of the main gear tires of Midnight Hawk Nr4 had burst and the pilot had hoped to abort the take off, but he was already too far on the runway so he had to continue his start. Immediately all airborne aircraft were called back while Number 4 was burning off some fuel before attempting an emergency landing. The rescue services, who were plenty on site positioned themselves and then before the eyes of the thousands of spectators a successful landing was made. During the roll-out it was clearly visible that the on the right hand side he had landed on the rim of the wheel and that the Hawk was trailing some smoke.
The Hawk also has a secondary role as air defense fighter and a fully armed example was in the static display. In 1993-1994 seven additional Hawk Mk.51As were ordered to make up for some losses and in June 2007 Finland acquired 18 ex-Swiss Air Force Hawk Mk.66 aircraft. These were apparently needed urgently as they still fly in basic Swiss markings and with a Finnish roundel and serial. As the Hawks were coming of age, in 2012-2016 41 of the remaining Hawks were taken out of service. Over the years I already saw many pilots waving to the crowd, but one Hawk pilot went a small step further by sending written messages to the crowd... indeed the Finns are very friendly people !
Also for the transport segment a look in the past was included. This was with a magnificent Douglas C47 Dakota that used to be operated by the Ilmavoimat, but now flies in the colors of Aero Oy/Finnish Airlines, the predecessor of the current Finnair. Currently all transport aircraft are operated by the Tukilentolaivue (TukiLLv) or Support Air Operations Squadron and are based at Tampere/Pirkkala. The transport element consists of 4 Lentues (Flights), each operating one of the current transport types, the CASA C295M, the Learjet, C295M (Elint role) and the PC12. The demonstration was opened by a formation fly-by of a Gates Lj35A Learjet and a Pilatus PC12. The Learjets are currently undergoing an upgrade program. Most noticeable element of this upgrade is that the aircraft are losing their distinctive camouflage color scheme for a new gloss grey scheme, similar to the one of the PC12. The first upgraded Learjet was present in the static display. This type is used for personnel transport, aerial photography and target towing.
In 2010 the Ilmavoimat took delivery of six Pilatus PC12/47E aircraft. These are used for personnel and light cargo transport. The aircraft are used quite intensively as over the three days in Tikkakoski 4 of the 6 aircraft were noted. The largest aircraft in the transport fleet unfortunately did not participate in the flying display, but one arrived on Friday and was in the static display the rest of the weekend.
The fighter element of the Finnish Air Force is formed by two fighter squadrons, Hävittäjälentolaivue 11 (HävLLv 11) at Rovaniemi and Hävittäjälentolaivue 31 (HävLLv 31) at Kuopio/Rissala, both equipped with the McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) F18C/D Hornet. The Hornet replaced the Saab Draken and the Mikoyan-Gurevitch MiG-21 from now onwards. Also here there was a look back in the past with a display of a Saab Draken from the Swedish Historic Flight. Unfortunately due to the incident with the Midnight Hawk Nr4 the solo display of the Finnish F18C Hornet was cancelled on Saturday, but over the three days we already had lots of opportunities to see this aircraft in action.
In theory the Finnish helicopter force is part of the Finnish Army, or Maaivoimat, but this didn't mean they were not invited to this Air Force party. The Utti Jaeger Regiment is home of the Army Special Forces Unit and the helicopter operations of the Finnish Army. The Helikopterpataljoona (HekoP or Helicopter Battalion) operates a fleet of 20 NH90TTH and about seven of the Hughes H500D and its more modern version the MD500E, these last can be recognized by the more pointed nose. Both aircraft were present on the ground and in the air. I had already seen the display of the Finnish NH90 at other airshows, but it was the first time that I saw them bursting a massive amount of flares, a spectacle we were offered also during the Press Day on Friday.
The McDonnell Douglas H500D/MD500E helicopters are used for flight training and various other helicopter operations. It was interesting to see that the display crew used two different types of the helicopter in their display, on Friday they used a H500D and on Saturday a MD500E. Unfortunately on both occasions the weather not was ideal for photography.
The display of the Finnish Army helicopters was not the only helicopter display during the show at Tikkakoski. The Rajavartiolaitos or Finnish Border Guard was also present with two different types from their inventory. In the static an Agusta-Westland AW139 Mk.II Koala and a Dornier Do228-212 was present. A second Koala gave a very nice display, where it demonstrated its forest fire fighting capacity with the use of a Bambi-bucket.
Like several other countries Finland is in the process of selecting a replacement for the now ageing F18C/D Hornet, the HX Fighter Program. In Tikkakoski five companies were present to demonstrate their latest fighter to the Finnish Press and Public. Four of these also brought the necessary hardware to give a demonstration in the air, traditionally Lockheed-Martin only brought their plastic mock-up of the F35A.
Boeing is offering the F18E/F Super Hornet to Finland, but nevertheless brought two brand new EA18G Growler to Tikkakoski. The Growler is the electronic warfare version of the Super Hornet. Both aircraft were US Navy VAQ129 aircraft, borrowed for the occasion by Boeing. The display was flown by one of the Boeing testpilots, who also provided us with a detailed briefing of the aircraft. The aircraft in the static was fitted with mock-up conformal tanks.
Eurofighter was present with no less than 7 Typhoons, representing all of the European users of the aircraft (except one, the recent decision of Austria to review the Eurofighter in their armed forces will be no surprise to this). There were one German, two Spanish, one Italian and three British aircraft present, were one of the Royal Air Force examples provided a flying display. This was not the usual Royal Air Force Typhoon display, as this was already tied up at airshow elsewhere in Europe.
Next candidate on the list is Dassault with their Rafale B/C. The French brought over three aircraft, all Rafale Bs, one of which was positioned on the static and the other two brought a rather unusual two aircraft flying display. Like with the Typhoon display, this was not the usual Armée de l'Air Rafale Solo-display, but this was to be expected as the show in Tikkakoski was held in the same weekend as the Nancy airshow in France. Of note is also that the arrival on Thursday of the French support team didn't go completely unnoticed. The brand-new Lockheed C130J-30 had developed hydraulic problems during the inbound flight and circled a long time over the airfield to burn off fuel and to enable the emergency service to position themselves. And I must say the smell of burned rubber remained long in the air after its landing...., luckily without further incidents.
On the last two candidates I can be relatively short. Saab was offering the Gripen E, of which a mock-up was in the static, together with one Gripen C from Swedish Air Force. A second Gripen C was scheduled to give a demo in the late afternoon, but also this was cancelled after the Midnight Hawk incident, so only a few shots of these aircraft from their arrival on Friday. The support for the Gripen arrived in a Saab Tp100C (SF340A), which was nice extra on the arrivals day. As already mentioned Lockheed-Martin only brought over their mock-up, which is a bit of a shame, as I think it was logistically perfectly possible to bring over one or two of the already delivered Norwegian or Italian Lightning IIs to Finland.
This concludes my extensive review of this event, although I must admit that there were more displays in the air than what I have listed. Over the day also a number of acro aircraft, business jets and even a gyrocopter performed. Did the show fulfill my expectations, yet it did. I got to see quite a lot of Finnish Air Force aircraft and this was one of my main goals. However I have to admit that I had expected some more aircraft from the neighboring countries, in the air or at least on the ground. Another item that I missed days was a program, there was no list made available to the crowd or the press of what was displaying and at what time. And the commentary wasn't a lot of help to me, as it was only in Finnish, which was quite understandeable.
For those who wish to go to Finland, well don't hesitate, it's an extremely beautiful country to visit and the people are really friendly. I made the drive from Helsinki to Tikkakoski by car and the scenery is really stunning. Some might be afraid that the language could be a problem, but also this is not necessary. Over the whole week I met only two people who didn't speak English and all of them did their utmost best to help me when required. Finland is not the cheapest country in Europe, but not as extreme as some of you might think. Food prices are similar to the ones in Belgium, only when you want have to a beer (or something else with alcohol) you have to dig deep in your pockets, but if you go to the local supermarket (some of them already open at 7am and remain open until 10pm) you can fix that problem as well. Overall it was a very positive experience for myself and hopefully I can go visit them again in a few years.
Text & Photography : Laurent Heyligen