The Finnish Air Force (FinAF, in Finnish Ilmavoimat) is one of the branches of the Finnish Defense Forces. The FinAF was founded on the 6th of March 1918. Throughout the years, the FinAF changed from a variety of donated or seized aircraft, into an air force that operates a mixture of modern fighters, helicopters and training aircraft. Obviously, the FinAF exists 100 years this year. This mile stone was celebrated during a two-day airshow at Tikkakoski Air Port / Jyväskylä Air Base.

The beginning

Until the Russian Revolution of 1917, Finland was a part of the Russian empire. Therefore, military aviation in Finnish territory was conducted by the Imperial Russian Air Service, before Finland became an independent state on the 4th of January 1918. Soon after the declaration of independence the Finnish Civil War erupted, in which the Russians sided with the so-called Reds, the leftist rebels. Finland's White Guard, the Whites, managed to seize a few aircraft from the Russians, but were forced to rely on foreign pilots and aircraft. Individual Swedish citizens came to the aid of the Whites and bought a N.A.B. Albatros aircraft from the Nordiska Aviatik A.B. factory. On its delivery flight it was sadly lost. Therefore the Thulin type D reconnaissance airplane is generally credited as the first aircraft of the FinAF, which came in service on the 6th of March 1918. This date is celebrated as the founding date of the FinAF since.
During the Interbellum, the period between World War I and II, the FinAF set up a training academy for pilots in 1923. The focus on maritime aviation from then on shifted to land-based aviation. When the threat of another major war became apparent, the FinAF acquired new aircraft for their fighter-, joint operations- and remote operations squadrons. Examples were the Dutch build Fokker D.XXI fighters and Fokker C.X reconnaissance/light bomber aircraft and the English build Bristol Blenheim light bomber aircraft

Winter War

After World War II (WWII) began in September 1939, Germany invaded Poland, the threat of war between Finland and the Soviet Union became more and more imminent. The Soviet Union targeted its own city of Mainila after Finland had declined the Soviet Union's mutual assistance agreements. The Soviet Union falsely blamed Finland for the Shelling of Mainila and in retaliation, the Soviets bombed several Finnish cities on the 30th of November 1939. This marks the start of the so-called Winter War. The Winter War, which ended in March 1940 and resulted in territorial cessions from Finland to the Soviet Union, was followed by an interim peace. During this period the FinAFs armaments were actively improved and damaged aircraft were repaired. Germany, in the context of building closer relations with Finland during the interim peace, supplied the FinAF with aircraft.

Continuation War

Finland implemented a mobilization of its armed forces in June 1941. The aerial war of 1941 began as Germany invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June, commencing aerial operations also in Finnish territory, where German flying forces had been stationed since the beginning of June. On the 25th June, the Soviets bombed targets in Finland and FinAF fighters were engaged in air combat for the initial time in this Continuation War, in which Finland was Germany's ally . Finland's primary front-line fighter at the time was the Brewster F-2A-1 Buffalo, which was replaced by German the Bf. 109 Messerschmitt in 1943. The Buffalos continued in secondary roles until the end of WWII. In addition, other fighter aircraft in use were the Morane M.S. 406 and the Curtiss Hawk, as well as the German build Dornier Do 17 and Junkers Ju 88 bombers. The FinAF then had a total strength of 550 aircraft.

Lapland War

For the FinAF WWII ended in the Lapland War that began in October 1944. Already in the summer of 1943 the German army top began to make plans in case for the situation that Finland should sign separate peace agreement with the Soviet Union. While German ground troops withdrew northwards, the German Navy placed sea mines in the seaways to Finland. With the following Operation Tanne Ost, the Germans tried to conquer the island of Suursaari, located in the Gulf of Finland. A few German officers and the Finnish army thought it would be better to organize a relatively peaceful withdrawal instead of starting a fight. Nevertheless, fighting broke out between German and Finnish units, even before the provisional Soviet-Finnish peace agreement was signed. In the conflict, the Finnish forces drove the German troops situated in Lapland out of Finnish territory in April 1945, ending WWII for Finland.


The Paris Peace Treaties signed in 1947 meant some drastic changes affecting the FinAF. For example, the air force couldn't have more than 60 combat aircraft and 3,000 persons in service. The swastika symbol was replaced by the blue-and-white roundel, which today is still the national insignia worn by the FinAF aircraft today.
International military aviation evolved quickly after WWII. Soon, jets were available to replace propeller-driven aircraft. In 1953, the FinAF received its first jet aircraft by procuring De Havilland Vampire from the United Kingdom (UK). The Vampire was succeeded in 1957 by the Folland Gnat, again acquired from the UK. Two further acquisitions were made in 1958, the Saab Safir trainers and the Fouga CM-170 Magister jet trainers. They were in service until the 1980s and provided a good foundation for training pilots towards handling the increasingly capable aircraft to enter service in the coming decades. Examples are the Soviet-built MiG-21F and Ilyushin Il-28 bomber, the Swedish-built Saab J-35 Draken and Polish-built SM-1 helicopters. In addition to these aircraft acquisitions, air defence capabilities were improved with new low altitude surveillance radars and surface-to-air missiles for the Finnish Army troops.

The next 20 years

Starting in the early 1980s a period of new modernizations were made within the FinAF. Early in the decade, the air force updated its liaison, transport and target-towing aircraft fleets. The new types of the era were the Fokker F-27, the Learjet 35A/S and the Piper Chieftain. These acquisitions served the air force for decades.
The fighter fleet also underwent modification programs to maintain and to improve its capabilities as to serve purposefully until the roughly the year 2000. First of all, many different aspects of air defense were developed such as fighter tactics as well as command and control systems. Simultaneously, new aircraft were purchased. For example, the Satakunta Wing received the BAE Systems Hawk jet trainer (replacing the Fouga Magister), the MiG-21bis (replacing the F-version) and the Swedish-built Saab Draken.
In the meantime, military aviation developed at a rapid pace and the Saab Draken and MiG-21 had begun to fall behind the international peak in performance terms. To replace these, the FinAF considered the Dassault Mirage 2000-5, the JAS39 Gripen, the Lockheed Martin F-16, the McDonnell Douglas/Boeing F-18 and the Soviet built MiG-29. After further evaluating the first four of these, the FinAF selected the F-18C/D Hornet as its next generation primary fighter. In conjunction with the acquisition, the parties agreed to assembly arrangements for the aircraft to take place in Finland, along similar lines as in the acquisitions of the Fouga Magister, the Draken and the Hawk in the past. Of the 64 Hornets the FinAF received from 1995 and on, 57 single-seaters were assembled in Finland and the seven two-seaters in the USA. Only two aircraft were lost since then.

The current FinAF

After the completion of the Hornet acquisition, the Air Force has replaced other aircraft as well in the 2000s. In 2007, the air force acquired CASA C-295M transport aircraft to replace the Fokker F-27 and in 2010 the Swiss-built Pilatus PC-12NG liaison aircraft replaced the Piper Chieftain and the Valmet Redigo fleets. Furthermore, in 2011, a number of Hawk Mk.66 advanced jet trainers were acquired from the Swiss Air Force to replace the oldest Hawks in the Finnish fleet. All Hawks remaining in service for the future will undergo a cockpit modernisation programme. In 2016 deliveries of Grob G 115E primary and basic trainers to the air force started. These replace the Valmet L-70 Vinka.
Among the changes made in the 1990s was the reassignment of the Finnish Defence Forces' helicopter operations, a FinAF responsibility since the 1960s, to the Army at the Utti Jaeger Regiment. In 1997, the Transport Squadron, formerly based at Utti, was relocated to Tikkakoski, where it operated under the name Supporting Air Operations Squadron until the Defence Forces Reform implemented beginning from 2012.


The air force training system was updated in the mid-2000s. In 2005, the Finnish defence industry group Patria, repair and assembly of aircraft since the early days of the air force, was entrusted with the provision of basic flight training on Vinkas. In view of this co-operation, the Vinka fleet previously based for the most part at Kauhava was relocated to Tikkakoski. At the same time, the Hawk fleet, formerly dispersed to the air commands, was transferred to Kauhava, where the advanced training and tactical flight training of FinAF pilots was provided as a concentrated effort. In this context, the Air Force Academy that operated at Kauhava was renamed the Training Air Wing while the Air Force C3 Systems School at Tikkakoski was given the name Air Force Academy.

The organization

In the Defense Forces Reform (DFR) commenced in 2012, the organisational structure of the air force underwent some of the most comprehensive changes during its entire history. As a result, today the FinAF consists of a command structure with the Air Force Academy, Karelia Air Command, Lapland Air Command and Satakunta Air Command. The Air Force Command Finland (AFCOMFIN), at Jyväskylä–Tikkakoski, is the command headquarters of the Commander of the air force and in that capacity is responsible for the direction of Finland's air defense under normal conditions and during times of crises.
In the reform, the Hornet flight operations were concentrated to Lapland and Karelia Air Commands. From that time on, Satakunta Air Command focused on transport operations as well as testing and research. The Flight Test Centre, previously based at Halli, was merged into the Air Combat Centre that is part of the air command. Furthermore, the Supporting Air Operations Squadron was also transferred to operate under the Air Combat Centre. In addition, the Hawk jet training as well as aircraft and weapon systems training were concentrated to the Air Force Academy at Tikkakoski. The Aircraft and Weapon Systems Training Wing therefore was disbanded at the end of 2013 and the Training Air Wing one year later. In the same context, the air force gave up the 3rd Control and Reporting Centre at Satakunta Air Command and established the Air Operations Centre that is responsible for the command and control of Finland's air defence operations and is administratively part of the Air Force Command. Moreover, the Air Force Materiel Command was merged into the new Defense Forces Logistics Command.

The future

Throughout its existence, the FinAF has strived to develop its capabilities to secure the striking power of Finnish air defense into the future. The present decade's projects include replacement and upgrading of air surveillance radar equipment and mid-life upgrades (MLU) on the Hornet fleet. In the context of the MLU-program, completed in 2016, their air-to-air combat capabilities were improved and modifications and acquisitions were made to secure the Hornet's remaining life-cycle. Additionally, the air-to-ground capabilities of the F-18s, originally designed as multi-role fighters, were introduced in the air force. To indicate this, the "A" letter was added to the Finnish Hornet's type designation F/A-18 denoting their air-to-ground capability.
The Hornets will be phased out by 2030. Therefore, the so-called HX Programme was set up to choose a replacement of the current fleet with new multi-role fighters. The responses to the Requests for Information came from BAE Systems (Eurofighter Typhoon), Dassault Aviation (Rafale), Saab (JAS Gripen E), Boeing (F/A-18 Super Hornet) and Lockheed Martin (F-35). The final procurement decision is expected to be taken in 2021. It will be based on four decision-making criteria: the multi-role fighter's military capability, the security of supply and industrial participation, the life-cycle costs and the security and defense policy effect of the acquisition.

Celebrating 100 years

The FinAF celebrated its 100th anniversary with a two-day airshow, held at Tikkakoski AP / Jyväskylä AB. The show was opened by paratroopers, bringing the Finnish flag to the showground.
The airshow consisted of three display themes. The first part, 'Know the history', showed airplane types which have been in the service during the past decades, such as the Saab 91 Safir and CM-170 Fouga Magister. In the second part, 'Feel the present', airplane types from the near past to the current present were displayed. Amongst other types, the Valmet L-70 Vinka, BAE Systems Hawk Mk.66, Pilatus PC-12 NG, C-295M and F/A-18C were part of the show. Also, the Finnish Army showed its NH-90 and Hughes MD-500 helicopters and the Finnish Border Guard demonstrated the AW119 Ke Koala. 'See the future' was the third theme, during this theme the capabilities of the HX Programma candidates JAS39, EF2000 Typhoon and Rafale were displayed, as well as an US Navy EA-18G Growler. On Saturday unfortunately one of the Finnish Midnight Hawks aircraft suffered a blown tire, resulting in a premature ending of the air show around 18.00 o'clock.
Most aircraft participating in the air show could also be seen in the static show, supplemented with other modern aircraft, such as a Spanish EF2000, as well as several aircraft of the Finnish Air Force in service today. Also historical aircraft, such as the Bristol Blenheim, Messerschmitt Bf109, Saab J35 Draken and MiG-21bis, were part of the static display.

This article was also published on the website of the Royal Netherlands Air Force Association in the foreign news section (in Dutch)