Back in June I spent six days in Europe's least visited country, Finland. After the first day I cannot understand why more people do not visit this stunningly beautiful country. My main reason for visiting the country was to attend the Finnish Air Force 100th Anniversary Air Show at Tikkakoski Air Base in south central Finland.
The hope was to photograph some of the Finnish Air Force aircraft that rarely are seen outside of Finland and visit a variety of museums to see the array of historic aircraft that the air force has flown in the past.
We started our journey flying from London Heathrow to Helsinki with Finnair. After a short walk around the airport hunting for the car hire desk we were off into the glorious sunshine and to our first port of call the Suoman ilmailmuseo on the out skirts of the airport.
As we approached the museum the first aircraft we saw glistening in the midday sun was an ex Finnair DC-3, with its polished metal finish reflecting the other aircraft around it. Beside the car park was one of the aircraft flown by Finnish Air Force which would've been of real interest to the West in the cold war days, the venerable MiG-21. Still in its striking multi tone green camouflage it looked like it could be taxied out to the runway and flown.
The museum held in its two hangers a huge variety of historic aircraft flown by the Finnish Air Force and Finnair and other private aircraft.
After a brief lunch stop it was time to start the journey along the southern coast and inland to our hotel in Kouvola. With the long evenings I decided to stop at the Finnish Army base at Utti to see if the based helicopters were still flying. Sadly no action from the local helicopters but a Border Guard AW139 was an interesting movement in between the Cessna C208 taking up skydivers.
After a good nights sleep it was time to start the journey towards Jyvaskyla and our air b 'n' b in the city. We stopped at Utti again and although there was no flying there was a change of NH90 in the maintenance hanger which were towed passed where we were sat.
Once on our way it was easy to understand why Finland is called 'The land of a thousand lakes' with stunning views of across the open waters to a carpet of trees. We found a rest area off the main roads and went for a walk around one of these lakes which offered some amazing views, plus we helped feed the local Mosquito population!
Back on the road and our final stop before the air B 'n' B was a small museum at Lahti. The museum building was closed but it was good to see another MiG21 and Mil8 outside along with some interesting light aircraft on the airfield.
A reasonably early start to head to Tikkakoski to get a parking space at the terminal also meant that there would be less people around the static display. After about an hour wait the gates opened and the crowd of people scattered throughout the static area. It was good to see the majority of the types in the Finnish Air Force on display with pilots and other Air Force personnel ready to have their photos taken and speak to the crowds. Other than the operational aircraft there were some museum aircraft and aircraft flown in the Finnish Air Forces history with some of these aircraft in the flying display.
It was always going to be a challenge photographing the flying display due to the orientation of the runway and the glorious sunny weather but the line up was looking good so i was happy with the challenge. The show started with multiple light aircraft performing various stunts and manoeuvres and then, in a first for me, large scale model aircraft.
After a few other items displayed and then at 12:00 the show properly started with two F/A-18Cs letting off flares as they climbed into the deep blue sky. Now the Air Force started going through its 100 year history starting with their first aircraft and onto the training aircraft both past and present including their newest addition the Grob.120.
The airport did not close during the show and there was a break in the display as a Nordic Regional Airlines ATR72 arrived and departed. After that it was time for some jet noise! Still sticking with the timeline there was a fantastic close formation display by two Fouga Magisters, with their polished metal finish reflecting the bright sunshine.
A star of the show for me was the J35 Draken flown by the Swedish Historic Flight in the last scheme that the aircraft flew in whilst in Swedish Air Force service. Seeing the Draken spitting fire throughout its display was awesome sight.
Helicopter displays in between the jet noise were a welcomed break from the ear plugs, each showing off their abilities and uses. The NH90 released a full set of flares, the Hughes 500 showed off its speed and manoeuvrability and the AW139 performed a demonstration of its SAR duties.
The BAe Hawk has been a part of the Finnish Air Force for many years, providing the next step from propeller training aircraft to becoming a front line fighter pilot. The Midnight Hawks in their grey aircraft emblazoned with the Finnish flag performed a faultless display with an added solo aircraft that i hadn't seen before. After they had landed two ex Swiss Air Force Hawks departed and met up with F/A-18s and completed fly pasts together showing off the differing performance of each aircraft.
Up next was the fly off by the contenders for the F/A-18s replacement. They included en EA-18G Growler, a pairs display of two Rafales (which seem to just chase about the sky on full afterburner) and an RAF Typhoon.
The last contender was ready to line up to display after the Midnight Hawks had departed again but it didn't get the chance to due to one of the Hawks bursting a tyre on departure which closed the runway once it had returned safely. The Gripen and the final item taxied back to their parking spots which meant there was a little bit of a flat end to the show.
Day two and I decided to try and watch the show from the outside. As I hadn't been to the Army Museum on the southern edge of the base I stopped there to look round all of the exhibits and aircraft before the start of the show. Soon after I'd finished photographing the aircraft the sound of jet noise reverberated around the car park and the Gripen appeared over the trees and pulled up over all the museum visitors. A decision was easily made then that I'd be staying here for the day having the aircraft display over head and have the sun in a better position.
The flying program was the same as the previous day but having the aircraft in close proximity made for a different feel.
Our hotel was in Tampere about 2 hrs south west of Tikkakoski. Again the drive was through some stunning scenery and it would have been rude not to stop to photograph another Draken on a pole in the setting sun.
Our final day was travelling down to Helsinki with stops to photograph some more of the lakes and forests. Finland is a beautiful country and somewhere i will definitely be visiting again.