Finnish Air Force

Finnish Air Force

The Finnish Air Force (FAF) (Finnish: Ilmavoimat, Swedish: Flygvapnet) is one of the branches of the Finnish Defence Forces. Its peacetime tasks are airspace surveillance, identification flights, and production of readiness formations for wartime conditions. As a separate branch of the military, the Finnish Air Force is one of the oldest in the world, having existed officially since 6 March 1918.


During the Finnish Civil War, the Whites had to rely on foreign pilots and aircraft. The official and neutral Sweden refused to send men and material, but individual Swedish citizens wanted to help the Whites. The editor of the Swedish daily magazine Aftonbladet, Waldemar Langlet, bought a N.A.B. Albatros aircraft from the Nordiska Aviatik A.B. factory with funds gathered by the Finlands vänner ("Friends of Finland") organization. This was the first aircraft to arrive from Sweden. It was flown via Haparanda on 25 February 1918 by the Swedish pilots John-Allan Hygerth (who became the first commander of the Finnish Air Force on 10 March) and Per Svanbäck. The aircraft made a stop at Kokkola and had to make a forced landing in Jakobstad when the engine broke down. This aircraft was later given the designation F.2 in the Finnish Air Force ("F" came from the Swedish word "Flygmaskin" (aircraft)).

The Swedish count Eric von Rosen gave the Finnish White government its second aircraft, a Thulin Typ D. A photograph of this plane can be found in the book by Christopher Shores. The pilot, Lieutenant Nils Kindberg, flew the aircraft to Vaasa on 6 March 1918, having von Rosen as a passenger. As this aircraft was given against the will of the Swedish government, and no flight permit had been given, it resulted in a 100 kronor fine for Kindberg for leaving the country without permission. This aircraft is considered by some to be the first aircraft of the Finnish Air Force, since the Finnish Air Force didn't exist during the Civil War, and since it was only the Red side who flew a few aircraft with the help of some Russian pilots. The von Rosen aircraft was given the designation F.1. The air force was officially called the "aviation force" during its first years. The Finnish Air Force is one of the oldest air forces of the world - the RAF was founded as an independent branch on 1 April, 1918 and the Swedish Flygvapnet in 1925.

Von Rosen had painted his personal good luck charm on the Thulin Typ D aircraft. This charm - a blue swastika, the ancient symbol of good luck - was adopted as the insignia of the Finnish Air Force. The white circular background was created when the Finns tried to paint over the advertisement from the Thulin air academy. The swastika was officially taken into use after an order by Mannerheim on 18 March 1918. The FAF had to change the swastika insignia after 1945, due to an Allied Control Commission decree, where all swastikas had to be abandoned. However, the original swastika can still be found in some regimental flags and medals, especially in the air force.

The F.1 aircraft was destroyed in an accident, killing its crew, not long after it had been handed over to the Finns. On 7 September 1920, two newly purchased Savoia flying boats crashed in the Swiss Alps en route to Finland, killing all on-board (three Finns and one Italian). This day has since then been the memorial day for pilots that have been lost.

The Finnish Air Force assigns the matriculation numbers to its aircraft by assigning each type a two-letter code following by dash and an individual aircraft number. The two-letter code refers to the aircraft type name, such as HN for F/A-18 Hornet, DK for Saab J-35 Draken, VN for Valmet Vinka etc.

Winter War 1939-40

The Winter War began on November 30, 1939, when the Soviet Air Force bombed 21 Finnish cities and municipalities. The Soviet Union is estimated to have had about 5,000 aircraft in 1939, and of these, some 700 fighters and 800 medium bombers were brought to the Finnish front to support the Red Army's operations. As with most aerial bombardment of the early stages of WW2, the damage against the Finnish industry and railways was quite limited.

At the beginning of the Winter War, the Finnish Air Force was equipped with only 17 bombers and 31 fighters. There were also 54 liaison aircraft but 20 of these were only used for messengers. The most modern aircraft in the Finnish arsenal were the British-designed Bristol Blenheim bombers that had been license-built in Finland. The primary fighter aircraft was the Fokker D.XXI, a cheap but maneuverable design with fabric-covered fuselage and fixed landing gear. On paper, this force should have been no match for the attacking Soviet Red Air Force.

In order to prevent their aircraft from being destroyed on the ground, the Finns spread out their aircraft to many different airfields and hid them in the nearby forests. The Finns constructed many decoys and built shrapnel protection walls for the aircraft. Soviet air raids on Finnish airfields usually caused little or no damage as a result, and often resulted in interception of the attackers by the Finns as the bombers flew homeward.

As the war progressed, the Finns tried desperately to purchase aircraft wherever there were any to be found. This policy resulted in a very diverse aircraft inventory, which was to cause some major logistical problems until the inventory became more standardized. The Finnish Air Force was to consist of numerous American, British, Czechoslovakian, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Soviet, and Swedish designs. Other countries, like South Africa and Denmark, sent aircraft as gifts. Many of these purchases and gifts didn't arrive until the end of the hostilities, but were to see action later during the Continuation and Lapland wars.

To make up for its weaknesses (few and obsolete fighters) the FiAF mainly focused on attacking enemy bombers from directions that were disadvantageous to the enemy. Soviet fighters were usually superior in firepower, speed and agility, and were to be avoided unless the enemy were in an disadvantageous position. A good example of the wiseness in this tactics was the surprise attack on the Immola air base in late February 1940 by some 40 Soviet fighters. The Finns scrambeled its available Fokker D.XXIs and Gloster Gladiators but lost seven aircraft against four shot down enemy fighters.

As a result off these tactics, the Finnish Air Force managed to shoot down 218 Soviet aircraft during the Winter War while losing only 47 to enemy fire. The Finnish anti-aircraft also had 314 confirmed downed enemy planes. 30 Soviet planes were captured - these were "kills" that landed more or less intact within Finland and were quickly repaired.

For a complete list of Finnish Air Force units during the Winter War, click here

Continuation War 1941-44

The Finnish Air Force was better prepared for the Continuation War. It had been considerably strengthened and consisted of some 550 aircraft, though many were considered second-rate and thus "exportable" by their countries of origin. Finland purchased a large number of aircraft during the Winter War, but few of those reached service during the short conflict. Politics also played a factor, since Hitler did not wish to antagonize the Soviet Union by allowing aircraft exports through German-controlled territory during the conflict. New aircraft types were in place by the time hostilities with Russia resumed in 1941. Small numbers of Hawker Hurricanes arrived from the United Kingdom, Morane-Saulnier M.S.406s from France, Fiat G.50s from Italy, a few dozen Curtiss Hawk 75s captured by the Germans in France and Norway then sold to Finland, when Germany began warming up its ties with Finland, and numerous Brewster B239s from the neutral USA strengthened the FiAF. The FiAF proved capable of holding its own in the upcoming battles with the Red Air Force. Older models, like the Fokker D.XXI and Gloster Gladiator, were replaced in front-line combat units with the new aircraft.

The FiAF's main mission was to achieve air superiority over Finland and prevent Soviet air power from reinforcing their front lines. The fighter squadrons were very successful in the Finnish offensive of 1941. A stripped-down, more maneuverable, and significantly lightened version of the American Brewster B239 "Buffalo" was the FiAF's main fighter until 1943. Results with this fighter were very good, even though the type was considered to be a failure in the US Navy and with British Far East forces. In the Finnish use, the Brewster had a victory rate of 32:1 - 459 kills while losing only 15. German Bf 109s replaced the B239 as the primary front-line fighter of the FiAF in 1943, though the Buffalos continued in secondary roles until the end of the wars. Other types, especially the Italian Fiat G.50 and Curtiss Hawk 75 also proved capable in the hands of well-trained Finnish pilots. Various Russian designs also saw action when lightly-damaged "kills" were repaired and made airworthy.

Dornier 17s (received as a gift from Hermann Göring in 1942) and Junkers 88s gave more capacity to the bombing capability of the Finnish Air Force. The bomber force was also strengthened with a number of captured Soviet bombers, which had been taken in large numbers by the Germans during Operation Barbarossa. The bomber units flew assorted missions with varying results, but a large part of their time was spent in training, waiting to use their aircraft until the time required it. Thus the bomber squadrons of Flying Regiment 4 were ready for the summer battles of 1944, which included for example the Battle of Tali-Ihantala.

While the FiAF was successful in its mission, the conditions were not easy. Spare parts for the FiAF planes were scarce -- parts from the US (Buffalo & Hawk), Britain (Hurricanes), and Italy (G.50) were unavailable for much of the war. Repairs took often a long time, and the State Aircraft Factory was burdened with restoration/repair of Soviet war booty planes, foreign aircraft with many hours of flight time, and the development of indigenous Finnish fighter types. Also, one damaged bomber took up workshop space equalling three fighters.

Finland was required to expel or intern remaining German forces as part of its peace agreement with the Soviets in mid-1944. As a result, the final air battles were against retreating Luftwaffe units.

The Finnish Air Force did not bomb any civilian targets during either war. Curiously, overflying Soviet towns and bases was also forbidden, as to avoid any unneeded provocations and to spare equipment.

According to Kalevi Keskinen's and Kari Stenman's book "Aerial Victories 1-2", the Finnish Air Force shot down 1,621 Soviet aircraft while losing 210 own aircraft during the Continuation War 1941-44.

For a complete list of Finnish Air Force units during the Continuation War, click here

Current aircraft inventory


! style="text-align: left; background: #aacccc;"|Aircraft ! style="text-align: left; background: #aacccc;"|Origin ! style="text-align: left; background: #aacccc;"|Type ! style="text-align: left; background: #aacccc;"|Versions ! style="text-align: left; background: #aacccc;"|In service ! style="text-align: left; background: #aacccc;"|Notes |- | McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet|| || Multi-role fighter || C
63 || |- | BAE Hawk || || Trainer
Attack || Mk.51/51A
65 || |- | Learjet 35 || || Transport || A/S || 3 || |- | Fokker F27 || || Transport || F.27-100
|| 1
|| Will soon be phased out of service. |- | EADS CASA C-295 || || Transport || M || 2 || |- | Valmet L-70 Vinka || || Trainer || || 28 || |- | Piper PA-31-350 Chieftain || || Liaison || A || 6 || |- | Valmet L-90 Redigo || || Liaison || || 9 || |- |}

Certain aircraft are scheduled for replacement: The Fokker F.27s will continue to serve side-by-side with the C-295Ms but are due to be replaced in a few years time. The Hawk Mk.51s and 51As are to be replaced by new planes of a so far unknown model in the next decade, and as an interim solution Swiss Mk.66s have been purchased. The Piper PA-31s will be replaced by 8 new liaison aircraft. Tenders have been invited from Pilatus Aircraft, Raytheon Aircraft Company and B-N Group.

The Finnish Air Force also planned to purchase 2-3 larger transport aircraft, to fulfill the requirements for domestic operations and for troop and logistics transports in international operations, as well as to form a tactical reserve for the evacuating of people from hazardous areas. The suggestions ranged from the Airbus A330 MRTT, Airbus A400M to the C-17 Globemaster III. On March 25 2008 it was decided that Finland would join NATOs joint airlift programme, which comprises a joint purchase of two C-17s by the new NATO countries and Sweden and Finland.


The Finnish Air Force operated helicopters until the end of the 1990s when all were transferred to the army wing. All helicopters are attached to the Utti Jaeger Regimen't Helicopter Battalion at Utti Jaeger Regiment. Helicopter types include Hughes 500D, Hughes 500E, Mil Mi-8T, and Mil Mi-8P. Twenty NHI NH90 are on order.


All UAVs are currently operated by the Army's Artillery brigade. The UAV Unit is stationed in Niinisalo. The Army operates the RUAG Ranger. Patria has also developed a Mini-UAV, which has been field tested by the Finnish Army.

F-18 Hornet

The F-18 Hornet is the Finnish Air Force variant of the Boeing IDS F/A-18 Hornet multi-role attack and fighter aircraft. It lacks certain avionics, target acquisition and weapon control features, limiting its ground attack capability. The variant is also used by the Swiss Air Force.

The decision to purchase the aircraft (64 in total, with 7 two-seat F-18D models and 57 single-seated F-18C models) was made in 1992, soon after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. The original plan was to buy about 40 western fighters and about 20 Soviet fighters due to political reasons, but the collapse of the Soviet Union removed the political reason to also buy Soviet aircraft. The plan changed to 60 single-seat + 7 dual seat fighters of the same type, and the F-18 won the contest. Due to the F-18's high price, the number of fighters to be purchased was decreased by three, to 57+7.

A key goal in the Finnish foreign policy of that era was to take no action that might be interpreted by the Soviets as a security threat; a weapons purchase of this magnitude certainly applied. Buying only NATO-compatible, American fighter jets was not possible for Finland before the U.S.S.R.'s collapse.

The primary reason for the lack of ground attack features in the aircraft is the semantic meaning of the word "attack". For example, Finland has Defence Forces, not an army — even the possibility of Finland ever attacking its neighbors is denied on all levels. This made the policy decision to purchase attack aircraft impossible in the nineties aftermath of finlandization, leading to factory reconfiguration of the F/A-18 to the F-18 variant. A similar rationale also led the Swiss Air Force to purchase 34 F-18s in 1991. A ban on bombers ("aircraft with internal bomb bays") was also mandated by the Paris peace treaty of 1947. This ban was later unilaterally rejected by Finland, but it played a part in the original specification and the competition.

The F-18 Hornet is the second U.S. Navy fighter in the Finnish Air Force, following the 1939 purchase of the Brewster F2A.

Attack capability upgrade

On 7 December 2004 the Finnish Air Force announced that it will reinstall the missing features in order to enable ground attack capability for the Hornets.

The FAF will test the following weapon types:

  • 67 AN/APG-73 Expand 4/5 Upgrades,
  • 3 AN/RT-1851 Radio Transmitters,
  • 5 Multifunctional Information Display Systems (MIDS/LVT),
  • 10 Advanced Tactical Forward Looking Infrared Radar (ATFLIR),
  • 4 AN/ALR-67V(3) Radar Warning Receivers,
  • 5 AN/AYK-14 Mission Computer Upgrades,
  • 2 GBU-31 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM),
  • 2 AGM-154A Joint Stand Off Weapons (JSOW),
  • 1 AGM-84K Stand-Off Land Attack Missile/Expanded Response (SLAM-ER), and
  • 1 AGM-88E Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missiles (AARGM).

The proposed program support includes recorders, receivers, devices, systems, APX-111 Combined Interrogator Transponders Mode S, components improvement program, spare and repair parts, support and test equipment, publications and technical data, personnel training and equipment, U.S. Government and contractor engineering and other related elements of logistics and program management support. The estimated cost is $300 million.

There has been some advance information that the AARGM won't be approved for Finnish testing, due to US ITAR regulations.

In December 2007 it was announced that the FAF had purchased ten AN/AAQ-28 LITENING AT Block II pods, which were to be integrated with its F-18s.


The Air Force is organised into three commands, each of which operates a fighter squadron:

Headquarters (Jyväskylä-Tikkakoski)

Air Support Squadron

  • 1st Flight F27-100 and F27-400M, CASA C-295M, Valmet Vinka, PA-31-350 Chieftain, Valmet L-90TP Redigo
  • 2nd Flight Gates 35A/S Learjet
  • 3rd Flight F27-100 (Sigint)C4I Materiel Command

Lapland Air Command (Rovaniemi)

Fighter Squadron 11 (Hävittäjälentolaivue 11, HävLLv 11)

  • 1st Flight F-18C/D
  • 2nd Flight F-18C/D
  • 3rd Flight Valmet Vinka, PA-31-350 Chieftain, Valmet L-90TP Redigo

Satakunta Air Command (Tampere-Pirkkala)

Fighter Squadron 21''' (HävLLv 21)

  • 1st Flight F-18C/D
  • 2nd Flight F-18C/D
  • 3rd Flight Valmet Vinka, PA-31-350 Chieftain, Valmet L-90TP Redigo

Karelian Air Command (Kuopio-Rissala)

Fighter Squadron 31 (HävLLv 31)

  • 1st Flight F-18C/D
  • 2nd Flight F-18C/D
  • 3rd Flight Valmet Vinka, PA-31-350 Chieftain, Valmet L-90TP Redigo

Training Air Wing (Kauhava)

Fighter Squadron 41 (HävLLv 41)

  • 1st Flight Hawk Mk 51/51A
  • 2nd Flight Hawk Mk 51/51A
  • 3rd Flight Hawk Mk 51/51ATraining Squadron
  • 1st Flight Valmet Vinka
  • 2nd Flight Hawk Mk 51/51A
  • 3rd Flight Valmet L-90TP Redigo, Valmet Vinka

Air Force Academy (Tikkakoski)

Supporting Air Operations Squadron (TukiLLv)

Air Force Air Material Command (Tampere)

Flight Test Center (Halli)

Aircraft and Weapon Systems School

  • F-18C/D, Hawk Mk 51/51A, Valmet Vinka, Valmet L-90TP Redigo

The three commands are part of the Defence Forces' Readiness formations.

Mobilized organisation

  • 3 Fighter Squadrons F-18C/D
  • 1 Fighter Squadron Hawk
  • 6 Readiness bases
  • 1 Support Squadron
  • 7 Communications Flights

Total of 38,000 personnel


Rank Name From To
Captain Carl Seber April 28, 1918 December 13, 1918
Lieutenant Colonel Torsten Aminoff December 14, 1918 January 9, 1919
Colonel Sixtus Hjelmmann January 10, 1919 October 25, 1920
Major Aarne Somersalo October 26, 1920 February 2, 1926
Colonel Väinö Vuori February 2, 1926 September 7, 1932
Lieutenant General Jarl Lundqvist September 8, 1932 June 29, 1945
Lieutenant General Frans Helminen June 30, 1945 November 30, 1952
Lieutenant General Reino Artola December 1, 1952 December 5, 1958
Major General Fjalar Seeve December 6, 1958 September 12, 1964
Lieutenant General Reino Turkki September 13, 1964 December 4, 1968
Lieutenant General Eero Salmela February 7, 1969 April 21, 1975
Lieutenant General Rauno Meriö April 22, 1975 January 31, 1987
Lieutenant General Pertti Jokinen February 1, 1987 January 31, 1991
Lieutenant General Heikki Nikunen February 1, 1991 April 30, 1995
Major General Matti Ahola May 1, 1995 August 31, 1998
Lieutenant General Jouni Pystynen September 1, 1998 December 31, 2004
Lieutenant General Heikki Lyytinen January 1, 2005 July 31, 2008
Major General Jarmo Lindberg August 1, 2008

See also


  • Shores, Christopher. Finnish Air Force, 1918-1968. Reading, Berkshire, UK: Osprey Publications Ltd., 1969. ISBN 0-85045-012-8.

External links

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