Text: Richard Plos

Illustration: Petr Štěpánek

Cat. No. 8232

In the spring of 1998, a significant event occurred in the Finnish Air Force. The MiG-21BIS was retired from its arsenal and the replacement, the F/A-18C/D Hornet, marked a significant shift for Ilmavoimat. However, the road to this turning point was rather thorny.

Finland was in a difficult situation after the Second World War. Fighting with the Red Army during the Winter War and then the Continuation War had significantly drained its resources and thrown the country into an alliance with Nazi Germany in its fighting for survival. Finland then fought against Germany in the Lapland War after the armistice with the USSR in 1944. The Paris Peace Talks in 1947 limited the post-war development of the Finnish air force which was still using old Bf 109Gs in the early 1950s. The country did not have the funds for modern aircraft, among other things because of the reparations paid to the USSR. However, in 1952 the purchase of six Vampire Mk.52s was agreed by government and Ilmavoimat entered the jet era. But Vampires were obsolete, and the USSR was concerned about the lack of protection of its neighbour’s airspace in a deteriorating international situation. Soviets feared that it could become a “gateway” for a possible strike from the West. Finland was thus threatened that the USSR would use a provision in the 1948 Peace Treaty (YYA) to take over the protection of Finnish airspace, which would have negatively affected Finland’s international position. The result was the purchase of 12 Folland Gnats in 1958.

In the early 1960s, the Soviet Union attempted to persuade Finns to buy the aging MiG-19Ss, but Finnish pilots were already familiar with the Western machinery, including the J 35D Draken or Mirage IIIC thanks to test flights, and so the offer was declined. However, the financial capabilities of Finland did not allow the purchase of these types. On the contrary, the acquisition of Soviet equipment would have been advantageous due to the possibility of repaying it with supplies of goods. In October 1961, the USSR sent another note to Finland demanding increased protection of Finnish airspace, again with a threat of use of the provisions of the YYA. After this crisis was settled, the USSR offered Finland the MiG-21F-13 and on February 1, 1962, a contract was signed for the delivery of twenty aircraft, the first of which were delivered on April 24, 1963.

Just a decade later it was obvious that Ilmavoimat would need another upgrade. The Saab J 35 Draken was selected as a replacement for the Gnats and in the spirit of the ongoing policy of diversification, it was decided that the replacement for the MiG-21F-13 would be procured from the USSR. The Finns requested a presentation of the available types and were offered MiG-23MS and MiG-21bis. The MiG-23 was more expensive and its maintenance requirements were higher, while the MiG-21 was cheaper and already established in Finland. And that made the decision. In the autumn of 1976, Captains Paavo Janhunen and Taisto Myöhänen were enabled to test-fly the type at the Krasnodar base and a year later a contract for 20 aircraft was signed.

The first two MiG-21BISs landed at Risala on September 21, 1978. One of them, coded MB-114, was flown to the test center in Halli, the other, MB-111, was used for pilot conversion training at HävLLv 31 (31st Fighter Squadron). Subsequently, the fuselage designation of the MiG-21BIS was changed from MB to MG, and the remaining 18 aircraft were delivered in three batches during 1980. The MG-129, which is pictured on the boxart by Petr Štěpánek during a landing at Kuopio Air Base was part of the second delivery on July 17, as was its wingman on the painting, coded MG-124. In 1984, it was decided to purchase six more aircraft, so in total the Ilmavoimat operated 26 MiG-21BISs.

All the delivered aircraft underwent avionics and instrumentation modifications by Valmet. The stenciling was translated to Finnish, the aircraft received VHF/COM radios and altimeters of Western origin, as well as VOR/ILS/DME systems and transponders.

In January 1986, the MiG-21F-13s that had served with the Reconnaissance Squadron (TiedLLv) were retired and replaced by MiG-21BISs modified to carry reconnaissance and electronic warfare containers. The reconnaissance squadron was disbanded in 1996, and two years later all Finnish MiG-21BISs were gone…