The Finnish International Airshow at Turku, Finland, featured a diverse raft of Scandinavian participants. Geoff Stockle writes.
Following a very enjoyable sojourn to the Danish Air Show at Karup and Stauning air museum last year, coupled with a dearth of mainland European air events this year, I decided a return visit to Scandinavia was in order; also satisfying another “new country” tick. The focus was the Finnish International Airshow held over 6-7 June, to which I added a few days to take in six museums, sightseeing and a date with the unique airworthy Gloster Gauntlet.
Quite surprisingly, Finland has a thriving aviation and airshow scene with at least five or six events each year including the well-known midsummer night show, flying club events, fly-ins and an annual, big international show. I say ‘surprisingly’ as though Finland is the 65th largest country in the world, its population is a “mere” 5.25 million- three million less than that of Greater London! However, its turbulent past as well as its sometimes unruly neighbours have resulted in the country taking its defence very seriously, resulting in a huge and diverse number of aircraft types that have been in operation by the Air Force or “Ilmavoimat” over the years and consequently, a wide public appreciation of its activities and equipment. Furthermore, the vast open landscape dotted with innumerable forests, lakes and ponds also lends itself to the aeroplane and helicopter being used as a common means of transport, bringing them into wide contact with the general public. The Air Force obviously see a benefit in this, having provided solo fast jets, trainers, helicopters and display teams on the airshow scene for decades. It’s such a pity that they have only fairly recently been active on the international show scene – the Hornet is now an accomplished trophy winning display, but just imagine having another Draken and a MiG-21 display available only a few years ago…
This year Turku was chosen for the main show; the first time since 2011, when the main attraction was a very rare appearance by the USAF Thunderbirds demo team. Turku is a Baltic coast city nestling in the South-Western corner of the country at about the same latitude as Lerwick on the Shetland Islands. For this reason, a last-minute decision to pack a woolly hat and gloves as well as the usual Summer airshow gear proved fruitful as the bitterly cold South-Westerly wind and afternoon showers each day made this possibly the coldest show I have ever attended! The venue was the airport, located to the North of the city, that acts as a busy passenger and cargo hub and consequently the flying was punctuated by several WizzAir, SAS and Flybe/Finnair movements but these had little effect on the flow of the display. I don’t know why but foreign websites and participation lists remain incredibly accurate from inception to the actual day of the show and logging in regularly, one could see the list of attending aircraft grow steadily.
As former Air Force types, I was hoping to see the Gloster Gauntlet added as well as at least the Draken from the Swedish Historic Flight, but this was not to be. I did find out later that these two prime airshow stars were dropped, along with a few others, so that the Turkish Stars could be added as the main attraction. Budgets being tight, the organisers couldn’t have taken this decision lightly but I can imagine the uproar by the enthusiast community in this country if such a thing had happened! Punters through the door and sponsors provide the income stream and so they are the ones who must go home satisfied, like it or not, thus a crowd-pleasing jet team such as the Turkish Stars take top billing from historic but arguably more “important” warbirds. With cruel irony the high winds both before and during the show would have prevented the Gauntlet even getting airborne (as I found to my own personal disappointment), let alone fly to the show, and so its participation would have been denied. Personally I also thought the L-39 equipped Baltic Bees, presumably ranked as second on the bill, flew a more flowing display than the Stars, having improved considerably since I saw them last.
With gates opening to the public at 1000, I arrived before 0800 to make the most of the early sunlight and also the lack of people on the show site. I also managed to snap a preserved Draken, positioned on the main road island to the airport. Former Air Force types are preserved in refreshingly good numbers around the country – particularly Drakens, Gnats and MiG-21s – underlining the very welcome and active aviation preservation that goes on.
The static display and public area were located on the cargo pan of the airport, and, as can be seen from the Friday evening aerial photograph above, was compact and not over-crowded! The display items were also located crowd side, bolstering the number of machines viewable by the public as well adding the excitement of seeing the crewing up and pre/post-flight rigmarole that goes on. Notable by their absence were the NF-5s of the Turkish Stars; their specialist requirements necessitated using Tampere-Pirkkala airport (and military base) some 80 miles to the North-East and then flying in to display each day. Flying and static aircraft combined resulted in a fairly conservative 60 machines on base involved with the event, dominated by the first visit to Finland by a United States Air Force C-17A Globemaster III, 97-0044 “Spirit of the city of Fairborn”, coming from the Reserve’s 89AS/445AW. Other very welcome USAF assets included two F-16Cs from the 31FW, Aviano, and a Mildenhall-based KC-135R which had been on detachment to Iceland prior to the show. It has to be said that without these four impressive yet familiar aeroplanes, the static would have been very sparse!
The Finnish Air Force provided several current types but a hoped-for Learjet and the sole remaining ELINT configured F-27 were not to be, leaving an F/A-18D, C295, Hawk, PC-12 and Vinka as the static exhibits. An in-service Vinka was a type I was looking forward to seeing, as the only other examples I have seen were Valmet demonstrators at a couple of Farnboroughs in the ‘70s. The home-produced Vinka entered service in 1980, replacing the Safir, and 28 remain in service as the country’s primary trainer. There’s something undeniably cute about the Vinka dressed in lovely camo and dayglo, alongside it being a unique type to the country. Its younger offspring, the Redigo, was retired in 2013, having never replaced the Vinka in its intended training role, however the presence of a Grob 120TP in the static may have represented more than passing nod to the future trainer. The static Hawk was a former Swiss Mk.66 variant still resplendent in its red/white trainer scheme, which certainly brought a wry smile to this observer and memories of rows of RAF Hawks in such a scheme at RAF Valley.
Also from Switzerland was an example of the Pilatus PC12NG that has recently entered service with the Air Force, this and a visiting example on Sunday representing a third of the active fleet and a slowly growing number of military operators of this distinctive type. Their useful cargo capacity and short/rough field capability provides a great benefit over the Navajos, Redigos and Piper Arrows they replaced in the base liaison/support role. Another home team absentee that I was hoping to see was a Hughes/MD 500, eight of which are operated by the Army alongside the more familiar NH90 at Halli. A single NH90 was at the show, and pulled out of the static each day to perform its impressive display as many of us witnessed at RIAT 2013.
The only other military static was a Royal Norwegian Air Force MFI-15 Safari, which, along with the Vinka, was high up on my list of notable attendees. Some may call me more than a little weird, but these sometimes odd and bizarre fairly uninspiring types do it for me as the chances of seeing them in the UK are slim, thus adding to the rarity value. The Safari is the original variant of the MFI-17 Supporter that has been a regular UK visitor courtesy of the Danish Air Force, whereas the Norwegian machines rarely venture away from their home base of Bardufoss where 20 serve as primary trainers. A further four flew in the display as the newly formed “Yellow Sparrows” team that, though good to see, offered a fairly uninspiring display, similar to the Danish “Baby Blue” sequence.
I said the only other military static as no matter how many MFG5 stickers you put on an EC135 (as seen at RIAT too) , it’s still a civilian-owned machine, not German Navy! The same air arm should have sent a Dornier 228 as well, however this proved to be the only cancellation from the original list – not a bad hit rate! Amongst the plethora of general aviation types from Tecnam, Embraer, Diamond, Cessna, Beech and Piper representing various training schools from the Baltic area were four other rather more interesting civilian machines. From the Aalto Universities’ Laboratory of Space Technology in Helsinki came a Shorts Skyvan complete with a side looking radar pod and kitted out with various test equipment and workstations as a flying laboratory, making a very interesting sight. The Finnish Border Guard or “Rajavartiolaitos” is a para-military organisation tasked with the patrol and security of the country’s extensive land and sea borders with the Air Patrol Squadron taking on Search and Rescue, fire fighting, vessel surveillance, fishery protection and emergency response. To expedite this, the airborne fleet consists of five AB412, three AS332L1 Super Puma, four AW119Ke Koala and two fixed-wing Dornier 228s flying from Turku, Helsinki and Rovaniemni.
The show featured one of each type on static except an AB412 and a further Do228 and Super Puma flew in the display; the Dornier put on a very tight turning sequence ending in a very hard short field landing. The Super Puma entered the arena dangling a fire fighting water bucket that was emptied at half way, adding to the drenching that the afternoon showers had already delivered. It then went on to simulate a rescue from a Scania truck, acting as a vessel in peril, and then a short, smart display for the appreciative crowd who obviously recognise the important work that they do. The government too acknowledge this as they have ordered three more EC725 standard Super Pumas and will upgrade the three 1980s vintage machines to a similar fit.
The flying was opened each day by the stately arrival of a DC-3 Dakota charter flight finished in very smart Finnair period colours. On Saturday it was joined by an equally well tuned out SAS machine. Both are ex-military and underline the fact that there can be few areas of the globe that haven’t been influenced by this fabulous, immortal workhorse. The flying continued at a relaxed pace courtesy of the Turku flying club with various general and light types such as Diamond Katana, paraglider, Breezer, Discus glider (towed by a very rare indigenous PIK Hinu) and the Fornier RF5 equipped “Team Tuulia”. Given the very windy conditions, the fact that these machines even got airborne, let alone displayed, owes a great deal to pilot skill. Team Tuulia flew later in a sequence very reminiscent of the RF4 duos we have seen in the UK over the years – very relaxing stuff (from the ground!). Also in this sequence were a few aerobatic items that it has to be said, did not match the high octane, rivet popping displays I have witnessed in the UK, or for that matter, Poland or Hungary.
An Exra flown by Tapani Wallin was joined by Jyri Mattila, a serving Hornet pilot, in the heavily modified, Vedeneyev radial powered “bogey-man” Pitts 12. Three further aerobatic types form the “Arctic Eagles” team consisting of a Pitts S1, rather larger Christen Eagle II and the truly hideous Canadian designed Ultimate 10-300. They flew a few manoeuvres in formation before a slightly higher performance solo by Miika “Iron Fist” in the Ultimate. Other types in the morning/lunch section included an Embraer Phenom 100 of the Finnish Aviation Academy that I likened to RAF Dominie displays of old, Vinka aerobatics, the Turkish Stars – who unfortunately copped the poorest weather on both days and had to fly their very flat show, and the NH90.
It took until late afternoon for the display to ramp up a gear with some proper jet noise and military displays. A delightful sequence by the Historic Flight’s CM170 Magister flown by Asa Saarinen (ex-Draken and Blue 1 pilot, now retired) was followed by an equally exquisite display by the Norwegian Historic Flight’s Lim2, or MiG 15UTI “Midget” to give it its more recognisable name. The Lim, recently seen in the UK in its Russian markings, had received Finnish Air Force roundels and codes as well as the famous Black “Supersonic Lynx” badge of HavLLv31 that also adorned the Magister for the show. Kenneth Aarkvisla, ex-RNorgAF and current SAS Boeing 737 captain, flew the Lim, representing previous generations of jet trainer and the current one, a Hawk T51, completed the trio with a very nice solo -Capt Pekka Timonen using a Midnight Hawks example complete with smoke pods. On Sunday only all three joined up for some well-positioned formation passes.
At last, some reheat noise was provided by Captain Ville Uggeldahl in the Finnish Hornet, and the display that many have become familiar with from its trophy winning performance at RIAT this year was enhanced by extensive flare releases culminating in a huge salvo during the final high-g roll into the landing pattern. More noise as a Norwegian F-16 basted into the sky followed by a Swedish Gripen, racing to join up with the Hornet. The trio then flew some pleasing passes representing the CBT – or Cross Border Training, a tri-national concept whereby airspace defence is shared by the three countries. This seems to have been spurred on by recent Russian muscle flexing and the thoughts of the vast wilderness of the Northern parts of Norway, Sweden and Finland remaining unprotected and vulnerable.
As Denmark is small fry compared to its much larger Scandinavian partners, and is surrounded by friendly nations, it does not take part – indeed, I was surprised that the usual sharing of assets for such events was not taken up by Denmark, a notable absentee at the show. The Gripen took my personal accolade for fast jet display of the day; I’ve always found it a bit hit and miss but demo pilot for several years, Capt Peter Fallen, definitely had his game face on and flew the veritable pants off his steed, copious flares and all. He taxied in with a contented grin as wide as the canards on his jet, and justifiably so. A lack of a ‘burner never stops the ALCA from making a lot of noise and Capt Vladimir Tovarek flew the typically excellent but largely unappreciated sequence that has been seen widely in Europe, having stepped up to take the place of the Czech Gripen display this year at many events. Bizarrely it lacked the expected flares, and seems to have been devoid of the fireworks all season. Penultimate display was provided by the Finnish Air Force Midnight Hawks team, it four machines and their smoke pods putting on a polished performance but one that lacks some of the flair of the more established jet teams.
The finale was provided by a team that I must admit I had some trepidation about as on previous occasions I have found them to be ropey at best. I was, however, pleasantly surprised by the Baltic Bees’ well-positioned and flowing display that fitted the venue perfectly and was well-received by the crowd. On the subject of crowd size, I was absolutely astounded that “only” 13,000 people attended over the weekend. I quizzed the organiser Perttu Karivalo about this and his reaction was remarkably relaxed – given the small, dispersed nationwide population, large country size and the small catchment of even major cities, the maximum crowd only usually reaches 20,000. Of course, that global airshow nemesis, the weather didn’t help and so may have affected on the day ticket sales (remember those, UK?!). I must make mention of the commentator for the show, a young lady whose name I unfortunately didn’t record – she held the event together extremely well and this writer certainly appreciated the fact that the vast majority was in English!
Following the final flourish and landing by the Baltic Bees’ L-39s on the Sunday a lot of activity resulted in many of the display and static aircraft departing, resulting in some good opportunities to view these machines under their own power. For many a relatively short flight home, for yours truly, a rather tortuous four hour drive North to Tikkakoski and a Monday visit to the Aviation Museum of Central Finland, but with the prospect of Blenheim, Brewster Buffalo, Il28, Bf109G etc., spectacular landscapes and almost perpetual daylight to accompany me, I departed Turku with optimism, despite the ever present Moose hazard!
With grateful thanks to Perttu Karivalo, Eerik Kiskonen and all of the Turku airshow organising team. I look forward to 2016’s event, location TBA.
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