report by: Mike Danks
The Finnish Air Force (Ilmavoimat celebrated their Centenary in 2018 and held an air show at Tikkakoski Air Base in south central Finland over the weekend of 16th and 17th June. The Finnish Air Force has had a complicated history with it being involved in multiple conflicts and wars in its 100 years. The Air Force Academy is located at Tikkakoski in Jyväskylä, Finland. It is a Finnish Air Force pilot training school, which gives initial pilot training for conscripts of the Finnish Air Force. The pilots fly Vinka aircraft and training is provided by the Patria Aviation company. Upon completing initial training, some pilots are transferred to the Training Air Wing in Kauhava, where they begin jet training with Hawk aircraft.
The static park was a showcase of the modern Finnish Air Force with almost all aircraft in its inventory available to photograph. There was also crew from each aircraft to talk to about the aircraft’s role within the Air Force. Away from the modern era aircraft was the historical area showing aircraft from the start of the Finnish Air Force including the SAAB Draken and MiG-21Bis. The Finnish Air Force has launched the HX fighter program to seek a replacement for the F/A-18 Hornet, which is due to be phased out by 2030. This added some interesting participants to the air show with nearly all contenders for the replacement being present. This included two US Navy EA-18G Growlers which had been bought to the show from the continental US with the help of an Omega DC-10 tanker aircraft. Along with the Growlers were Bae Systems EF2000 Typhoons, from each of the four European countries that build the aircraft, SAAB Gripens from the Swedish Air Force and French Air Force Rafales. The only missing competitor was the Lockheed Martin F-35 which was there only as a full-size mock up.
The flying display commenced with light aircraft performing formation manoeuvres and aerobatics. It wasn’t until midday that the military side of the show started with two F/A-18s powering up into the sky releasing flares. The historical aircraft took to the skies after the F/A-18s opening with Fokker D.VII,Stieglitz, Viima and Gloster Gauntlet and performing various passes and taxing close to the crowd on the grass. Now it was time for the basic trainer aircraft from the past and up to the modern day. Four Saab 91D Safir, four Valmet L-70 Vinkas and a new Grob Tutor departed and performed a couple of flypasts. The Saab Safir was first used for basic training in Finland in 1958 and continued providing this service until 1982 where the home grown Valmet Vinka took over this role. ‘The Vinka entered service with the Air Force Academy at Kauhava in 1980. Vinka became the linchpin of primary flight training in the Air Force, and since then practically all fixed-wing and rotarywing pilots of the Defence Forces and Border Guard have gotten their first taste of flight in the aircraft. In 2005, all Vinkas were transferred from Kauhava to Tikkakoski, and concurrently with this pilot reserve officer training was also relocated. The Vinka is being replaced in the primary and basic training role by the German Grob G 115E purchased from the Royal Air Force.’ Finnish Air Force
Now it was time for some jet powered aircraft with two former Finnish Air Force types flying. Up first was a pair of privately owned Fouga Magisters. The Magister was the next step in the jet age for the Air Force with the first aircraft being delivered in 1968 where it provided the next step from basic training. This was eventually replaced by the Bae Hawk. Next to fly was the Saab J-35 Draken of the Swedish Air Force Historic Flight. The Finnish Air Force was preparing to purchase the Draken in 1962 and was instead offered the new MiG-21 but the Soviet Union. The MiG-21 was purchased instead but less than a decade later the Draken was purchased by the Finnish Government. The Draken was the first true all-weather fighter of the Finnish Air Force, and the first modern, Western fighters in Post-War Finland. The Draken deal meant that roughly half of the fighters of the Finnish Air Force came from the West and half from the East. The Draken was replaced by the F/A-18 Hornet with the last Draken withdrawn in 2000.
Helicopters including the NH90, Hughes MD500 and Finnish Border Guard AW119 Koala all displayed their capabilities, with the NH90 releasing a full set of flares and the AW119 completing SAR and Bambi bucket use. The Finnish display team, The Midnight Hawks, closed this section of the show with a full display in the deep blue skies. Not seen before at other shows was a solo display which showed off the capabilities of the Hawk trainer. An interesting item was after the Midnight Hawks was a display illustrating the differences in speed and manoeuvrability between the Bae Hawk and the F/A-18 Hornet. They performed multiple passes before the Hawk was used as a bandit and tracked by two Hornets.Now it was time for the fly off between the three aircraft that are in competition for the HX fighter program. First up was the EA-18G Growler whose display was extremely sedate compared to the next competitor which was a pairs display by the Rafales. They seemed to chase each other around the sky really showing the manoeuvrability of this multirole combat aircraft.
The Swedish Air Force Gripen departed and put on a great sales pitch with tight turns and pin point accurate manoeuvres. The final HX competitor was the EF2000 Typhoon flown by the Royal Air Force display pilot Flt Lt Jim Peterson. He put the aircraft through its paces giving a great flying demonstration for the Finnish crowd. The final item of the day was the F/A-18 Hornet. ‘The F/A-18C and F/A-18D variants of the Hornet entered serial production in 1987. Finland selected the Hornet to replace its ageing Saab Draken and MiG-21bis interceptors in 1992, and the aircraft entered Finnish service between in 1995–2000.’ The Hornet has been through two Mid-Life Updates which have brought new capabilities to this potent fighter including new LCD displays, communication and navigation systems in addition to Link 16 information distribution system datalink. This was an interesting show to attend allowing a good opportunity to photograph some Finnish Air Force aircraft rarely seen outside the country.