VL Viima II – A Domestic Basic Trainer of the Finnish Air Force
The VL Viima biplane was designed at the Finnish State Aircraft Factory (Valtion Lentokonetehdas) in the mid-1930’s, to replace the Czechoslovakian Letov Š 218 Smolik basic trainer. The Viima, designed by a team of engineers led by Arvo Ylinen, flew its maiden flight in January 1936. The performance of the first prototype didn’t satisfy the Air Force, so the aircraft was re-designed. The renewed prototype, Viima II, was accepted, and the Finnish Air Force placed an order of 20 Viimas during summer 1938. The Viimas were delivered in late 1939, and were marked “VI”. In total, 24 Viimas were manufactured for the Finnish Air Force.
During the Second World War, Viimas were used for instrumental flight training and aeobatic practice, as well as liaison aircraft. After the War, the aircraft were widely used as basic trainers, alongside the German Focke-Wulf FW 44J Stieglitz. In the 1950’s the cockpits of the Viima were equipped with canopies.
The Viimas and Stieglitz were operated by the Air Force until the late 1950’s, after which they were replaced with Swedish Saab 91D Safir basic trainers. The remaining Viimas – apart from four – were sold in an auction in May 1960. The civil operators used the Viimas to tow gliders, among other uses.
The Viima was designed in the 1930’s during the heyday of Finnish aircraft industry. At the same time, the State Aircraft Factory had three other serial production projects – the VL Tuisku -trainer and the VL Pyry -fighter trainer.
From the Air Force Aircraft Factory to Patria – the History of Finnish Aircraft Industry
The Aviation Force Aircraft Factory (Ilmailuvoimien Lentokonetehdas) was founded in the early 1920’s in Suomenlinna, Helsinki. The initiative came from major Arne Somersalo, who was appointed as the Commander of the Aviation Force in 1920. The purpose of the Factory was to produce and maintain aircraft primarily for the use of the Aviation Force. The first aircraft were foreign designs manufactured on license, but the designers of the factory soon began producing their own prototypes. The first aircraft type to enter serial production, the VL Sääski II seaplane, was manufactured until the end of the decade. At the time, the Factory had transferred from from being subordinate to the Finnish Air Force to being subordinate to the Ministry of Defence – thus changing its name to State Aircraft Factory.
In the 1930’s, after the Great Depression, Finnish aircraft industry grew rapidly. As the operations increased, the old facilities in Suomenlinna quicly became inadequate – in 1936 – 1937 the Factory moved to renewed facilities in Härmälä, Tampere.
The War Years were difficult for the aircraft industry. Repairing damaged aircraft and engines bound resources, and decentralization of the Aircraft Factory made operations more difficult. Despite of this, the Factory managed to continue producing new aircraft and even new aircraft types – the VL Myrsky II, the only fighter in the history of the Factory to enter serial production, made it to the Front in the end of the Continuation War in 1944, albeit only to be used as a reconnaissance plane.
After the Second Word War, Finland was to pay heavy war reparations to the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union demanded products of metal industry, but did not accept any aircraft. The State Aircraft Factory amalgamated with the State Metal Factories (Valtion Metallitehtaat, from 1951 onwards Valmet Ltd), and focused primarily on war reparation products. The aircraft industry was not entirely disbanded, however. In the early 1950’s, the Air Force even placed an order for a new fighter trainer, the Valmet Vihuri – which was, however, decommissioned already until the end of the decade due to numerous accidents. The Factory also developed the Tuuli basic trainer, which eventually lost the competition to the Swedish Saab Safir in 1958.
The Vihuri accidents stained the reputation of the Finnish aircraft industry, which also suffered from a severe lack of resources. The French Fouga Magister jet trainers, chosen as the Finnish Air Force trainer aircraft in 1958, provided a much-needed invigoration – majority of the 80 aircraft were manufactured on license at the Valmet factory. In the 1970’s the factory designed, in addition to several construction projects, the still-in-use Valmet Vinka basic trainer to succeed the Saab Safir. In the 1980’s, the factory designed a turboprop version of the Vinka, the Valmet Redigo. However, the Post-War aircraft industry never reached the level of the Pre-War years.
Nowadays, the heritage of Finnish aircraft industry is carried on by Patria Plc, under which Finnish defense industries were centralized in 1997. The Finnish F/A-18 Hornet fighters and NH 90 helicopters, among others, have mostly been constructed at the Patria Factory. A subsidiary of Patria, Patria Aerostructures, also manufactures composite parts for, for instance, Airbus.
OH-VIG (VI-3) – the last original Viima
The Viima II performing at the Kaivopuisto Air Show (OH-VIG), flew in the Finnish Air Force under the registration VI-3. It is the first serial-produced Viima, and was nicknamed Haijala after Hannes Haijala, a sergeant major of the Finnish Air Force, who served in the 1920’s. The plane was sold to a private owner in the 1960’s. In the 1970’s the aircraft was sold abroad – to Great Britain, Belgium and finally to Germany.
In 2015, the aircraft was purchased by Phil Lawton, a British aviation enthusiast living in Finland. In 2014, Lawton restored a Hawker Hurricane fighter into flying condition under Finnish Air Force colors. Lawton has stated, that his mission is to build a fleet of flying historical aircraft in Finland.
The OH-VIG is currently one of two Finnish Viimas in flying condition. It is the only Viima in its 1940’s state – with an open cockpit and the War-Time colors of the Finnish Air Force.