One of the oldest Air Forces in the World
The development of the air force changed the nature of warfare in the 20th Century. Flying Corps were developed in the newly independent Finland already in 1918 – one of the oldest air defense branches in the World celebrates its own 100th anniversary next year. The new defense branch was named Aviation Force in 1919. It has been known as the Finnish Air Force since 1928.
The history of the Finnish Air Force goes back to the Finnish Civil War of 1918. A Swedish nobleman and an adventurer, count Eric von Rosen, donated the Finnish White Army a Thulin D-type airplane. The aircraft was handed over on March 6th 1918 – the Air Force still celebrates its anniversary on 6th of March.
Early Years of the Air Force
When Finland became independent, the entire concept of an Air Force was a novelty. Thus, the entire defense branch had to be formed from scratch. In the 1920’s and 1930’s the defense branch sought its course of conduct via several development programs, consulting foreign specialists. Focus shifted from early seaplanes towards land-based aircraft, and there were discussions on whether emphasis should be on offensive, bomber-based or defensive, fighter-based strategy. Especially during the early years, the Air Force had only a very limited budget, which affected executing the development programs, and also acquisitions.
The results of the development work were put to a sudden test in November 1939, at the outbreak of the Winter War. Especially during the early stages of the Winter War, the seriously outnumbered Finnish Air Forces concentrated solely on defensive fighter interception and reconnaissance – later, especially during the Continuation War, bombing operations were also carried out. The skills of Finnish fighter pilots, combined with modern fighter tactics, proved to be successful – Finnish fighters managed to cause serious losses to the enemy, and prevented the enemy from gaining air superiority.
After the Wars
The Paris Peace Treaty of 1947 included some severe restrictions to the Finnish Air Force. The total strength was restricted to 60 combat aircraft and 3000 personnel, bombers and missile weapons were banned altogether. The government resources were also minimal after the War, and Finland’s position as a Neutral country between the East and West complicated for instance weapons trade, as the tensions of the Cold War grew.
It took until the early 1950’s for the Finnish Air Force to replace its war-time fighter fleet with its first jet fighters. Even then, the new British fighters were few in number, and the aircraft types were not really competitive. In the 1960’s, the fleet was considerably strengthened, as the Air Force received modern MiG-21 fighters from the Soviet Union. The current fighter fleet, consisting of American F/A-18 Hornet fighters, was acquired in the 1990’s, and the Hornets are to be replaced until 2030.
The organization of the Finnish Air Force has changed several times during its history. The origins of the current organization go back to year 1952, when the Defense Forces underwent a major revision. During the revision, old war-time Flight Regiments were changed into Air Commands – the 1. Air Command in Tikkakoski (Jyväskylä) became the Tavastia Air Command (Hämeen lennosto), the 2. Air Command in Pori became the Satakunta Air Command (Satakunnan lennosto) and the 3. Air Command in Utti (later Kuopio) became the Karelian Air Command (Karjalan lennosto). Also the Air Force Academy (Ilmasotakoulu) in Kauhava became the Training Air Wing (Lentosotakoulu) and the Flight Depot in Tampere became the Air Force Depot. In the 1970’s, the Tavastia Air Command moved from Tikkakoski to Rovaniemi, and became the current Lapland Air Command (Lapin lennosto). Also the Air Force Headquarters moved from Helsinki to Tikkakoski, the Satakunta Air Command moved from Pori to Pirkkala (Tampere) and the Aircraft and Weapon Systems Training Wing (Ilmavoimien Teknillinen koulu) moved from Kauhava to Kuorevesi. In the latest, 2010’s renovation the bases of Kauhava and Kuorevesi were closed down, and all Air Force training was centralized in the Air Force Academy at Tikkakoski. Also, all the transport flights and flight research was centered in the Satakunta Air Command, from which all the fighters were relocated to Kuopio and Rovaniemi.
Nowadays the Finnish Air Force is responsible for the aerial defence and integrity of Finland. It also participates, if needed, in international crisis management. The Finnish Air Force employs over 2000 people – both military and non-military – and it trains around 1300 conscripts each year.
A Pioneer of Finnish Aviation
The Air Force has had a huge influence in the development of Finnish Aviation also on a larger scale. In the early years of Finnish incependence, the Aviation Force was the only organization to practice aviation on a professional level, and when the first legal decree of aviation was given in 1919, the Aviation Force headquarters was nominated the highest official monitoring all aviation in Finland.
The early commanders of the defense branch also influenced the development of both commercial and general aviation. The predecessor of the current Finnish Aeronautical Association, the Finnish Air Defense Association, had close ties to the Air Force. The Aviation Force was, until the turn of the 1930’s, the only instance in Finland to provide pilot training – for example, practically all of the airline pilots of Aero Ltd (current Finnair) up until the 1950’s had a military background. Also, the history of Finnish aircraft industry is closely related to the history of the Air Force. The Aviation Force founded its own aircraft factory in 1920, which was located in Suomenlinna, Helsinki. This later became the State Aircraft Factory (Valtion Lentokonetehdas), which in time amalgamated into the State Metal Factories (Valmet Ltd). Nowadays, the legacy of Finnish aircraft industry is continued by the aerospace and defense company Patria Plc, founded in the 1990’s.