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The Finnish Air Force (FAF, FiAF) (Ilmavoimat, "Air Forces"), is the air force of Finland. It was founded in 1918 and known as Ilmailuvoimat until 1938.

Current inventory

Fixed-wing aircraft

Aircraft Role Number In service Country of origin Code letters
McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet Fighter 62 1995- USA HN
BAe Hawk Fighter trainer 75 1980- UK HW
Pilatus PC-12 Liaison 6 2010- Switzerland PI
Valmet L-70 Vinka Basic trainer 1980- Finland VN
Grob G115E Basic trainer 28 2016- Germany GO
CASA C-295M Medium transport 3 2008- Spain CC
Gates Learjet 35 Transport 3 1982- USA LJ

Helicopters

The helicopters officially belong to the Ground Forces.

Aircraft Role Number In service Country of origin Code letters
NHIndustries NH90 Transport 20 2008- EU NH
MD Helicopters MD500 Multipurpose 7 USA HH

History

World War I and interwar era

The Finnish Air Force was founded during the Finnish Civil War in early 1918 as the flying branch of the White Guards, although the opposing Red Guards also had their own flying corps. It bought its first aircraft, a NAB Albatros on 20 February 1918, but a Thulin Typ D donated by Swedish count Eric von Rosen entered service before it. The Thulin was painted with von Rosen's personal symbols of luck, blue swastikas, which became the FAF's first insignia. Initially the FAF relied mainly on captured Russian aircraft and then on German aircraft, until Germany was defeated in World War I. Later the FAF began to briefly favour French aircraft until ceasing to prefer any particular country in the mid-1920s. Attempts to become self-reliant by developing indigenous aircraft like the IVL Haukka were not successful.

As the threat of a new World War grew in the late1930s, the FAF high command argued over whether they should build a strictly defensive air force that relies almost entirely on fighters, or buy Bristol Blenheim bombers that could provide give the FAF strategic offensive capabilities. The latter suggestion won, and the FAF ordered 18 Blenheim Mk Is while the Valtion lentokonetehdas (State Aircraft Factory, VL) built 15 more under licence. This decision limited the amount of fighters the FAF could buy, and has been retrospectively viewed as a mistake.

World War II

On 30 November 1939 the Soviet Union attacked Finland in what became known as the Winter War. The Soviet AF had the advantage in both the number and performance of its aircraft, but the FAF pilot training was considered to be superior. The FAF's only decent fighters were 40 Fokker D.XXIs, although even they were obsolescent. Still, the FAF managed to hold back the Soviet aerial offensives quite well, claiming 218 kills for the loss of 62 aircraft.

In June 1941 the FAF was much better equipped, as Finland invaded Soviet Union together with Germany. New Brewster B-239 fighters secured air superiority, claiming to achieve a kill ratio of 32 to 1. In 1943 the FAF bought new Messerschmitt Bf 109Gs from Germany. However, from 1943 the Soviet AF again achieved an advantage in aircraft quality, as new aircraft deliveries from Germany had stalled. In summer 1944 the Soviets launched a major offensive and smashed through the Finnish lines. The FAF fought with at a disadvantage, but helped to prevent the Finnish Army from collapsing completely. The war ended in September 1944, when Finland was forced to accept peace.

The blue swatika insignia was replaced with a roundel in 1945 due to political reasons, even though the FAF swastika had nothing to do with the Nazi swastika. The 1947 Paris Peace Treaty limited the FAF's size to 60 combat aircraft, and prohibited it from owning bombers with an internal bomb bay, stripping the FAF of its offensive capabilities.

Cold War

During the late 1940s and early 1950s the FAF was stuck with its old Bf 109s that couldn't realistically fight jet fighters like the F-86 Sabre or the MiG-15. Finland declared political neutrality, which made both NATO and the Soviet Union reluctant to sell advanced combat aircraft to it. Furthermore, Finland was still relatively poor, and recovering from World War II, so the FAF could only buy cheap, obsolescent aircraft like the de Havilland Vampire. Over time Finland was more and more often viewed as a Soviet satellite state in the West. In the 1960s the Soviet Union wished Finland to act as a buffer against a possible NATO attack, and agreed to sell new MiG-21F fighters in 1963. They became the FAF's first potent combat aircraft since the Bf 109Gs in 1943. They were supplanted by second-hand Saab J35 Drakens from early 1970s onwards.

The 1980s were a decade of generous spending, as the FAF bought 50 Bae Hawk Mk51s from UK and 30 Valmet Vinkas. However, the end of the Cold War in early 1990s and a great depression limited the spending, but the FAF nevertheless ordered 64 McDonnell Douglas F-18 Hornets to replace the MiG-21Bis and Saab Draken.

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