Pilot’s log: Thursday, June 4, 2020

Origin:Copenhagen Airport (EKCH) – Kastrup, Denmark
Destination:Helsinki-Malmi Airport (EFHF) – Helsinki, Finland
Distance:1,025 miles

Today’s flight takes us from Copenhagen, over Norway and Sweden, to Finland. Along the way we will see Norwegian fjords and mountains, the Swedish lake Vänern (the largest lake in the European Union), and the Åland Islands, part of the world’s largest archipelago stretching across the Gulf of Bothnia between Sweden and Finland.

Leaving Denmark, we’ll fly over the city’s famous Tivoli Gardens amusement park. Opened in 1843, the compact park features rides and attractions set in carefully landscaped grounds. It’s the ancestor of all of today’s theme parks. In fact, a 1951 visit by Walt Disney inspired creation of the first Disneyland in California.

Speaking of fun: Denmark and the other nations in this area often place at the top of studies ranking overall “happiness” of people around the world. Rating a quality such as “happiness” can be a challenge, as happiness means different things to different people. But what if you tried to measure the many elements that make up an overall quality of life? You might include things such as life span, financial security, good health, lack of stress, freedom to live as you please, and so on. When that’s done, the Nordic countries of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland rank very high.

Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens amusement park

Why? Many observers point to what’s called the “Nordic Model” of society. Greatly oversimplified, it means that government plays an active role in providing a high level of services to all citizens, including education, health care, retirement pensions, and much more. However, tax rates on people and businesses can be very high. Businesses are still privately owned and function in a free market economy, but the government plays a major role in distributing benefits to all citizens.

There’s more about the “Nordic Model” and happiness ratings in the links. How is this model different from government in other places, such as the United States? It’s important to note that the world is home to many forms of government that are always evolving. One of the great things about traveling is learning about other ways of doing things and seeing them in practice.

Nordic countries, with Iceland closer than in reality

As we fly up the southwest coast of Norway, a country of about 6 million people. In Norway, the landscape can help you understand history. Along the coast, surrounded by mountains, it’s no surprise that for centuries, Norwegians looked to the sea. A thousand years ago, in the era of the Vikings, they sailed west, as far as Iceland, Greenland, and even North America. Even today, few roads pierce the mountainous interior of Norway. It’s still easier to get around by boat, or now by air. And speaking of water: Fjords (pronounced “fee-YORDS”) are a hallmark of the Norwegian coast. These steep-walled valleys often stretch for many miles, bringing the sea deep into the mountains. Today’s flight will follow Lysefjord, which is highlighted by dramatic “Pulpit Rock,” which rises nearly 2,000 feet above the water.

Gidsken Nilsine Jakobsen

Norway’s aviation pioneers include Gidsken Nilsine Jakobsen, an early female pilot who in 1932 became the first woman to head an airline in Scandinavia. As we cross from Norway into Sweden, we’ll tip our wings in honor of another flight legend, Swedish pilot Ivar Sandström, one of the nation’s earliest aviators. A Navy pilot, he was tragically lost in 1917 when his open cockpit plane turned upside-down and he fell to his death. Ironically, the pilot-less plane crashed in a cemetery.

We’re now in Sweden, a nation a little bit larger in area than the state of California. Like Norway, it has an advanced economy and its residents enjoy a high standard of living. A nation of 10 million people (including members of the iconic pop group ABBA), about 2/3 of Sweden is covered by forest, which is roamed by 400,000 moose. Sweden also boasts the largest freshwater lake in the European Union: Lake Vänern, which is about one-quarter the size of the state of New Hampshire. You can learn a lot more about Sweden in the links below.

Finland, a country on the fringe of Northern Europe with a population of about 5.5 million, has a long and eventful history, dating back to the Iron Age and the invasion by Sweden in the 12th century. Finland remained part of Sweden until 1809, when – as part of the Napoleonic wars – the settlement of a conflict between Sweden and Imperial Russia led to Finland becoming an autonomous “Grand Duchy” of Russia. Later, in the aftermath of the Russian revolution in 1917, the country declared itself independent.

The old terminal building of the Helsinki-Malmi airport
Photo: Ora Lassila / So Many Aircraft

We will be landing at the Helsinki-Malmi airport. This is the old airport of the capital, built in the late 1930s and officially inaugurated in May 1938 in anticipation of the 1940 Olympic Summer Games that were meant to be held in Helsinki, but were canceled because of World War II. The airport served as a military airbase during the war. Helsinki-Malmi remains the second busiest airport in Finland, but is now threatened by the city’s housing development plans, despite the majority of the citizens of Helsinki resisting such plans. The airport’s terminal is the original building from the 1930s, and is one of the few remaining examples of pre-war airport terminals. Architecturally it represents the style of functionalism. The unfortunate situation about the airport’s threatened closure, apart from the disruption it will cause to pilot training and general aviation, is that it has been recognized as a historically and culturally significant landmark by the Finnish Heritage Agency, the World Monuments Fund, and others. The pan-European cultural heritage organization Europa Nostra in 2016 selected the airport as one of the seven most endangered cultural heritage sites in Europe.

Plaque commemorating Rust’s flight
Photo: Ora Lassila / So Many Aircraft

An interesting incident involving the airport took place in 1987, when a German teenager named Mathias Rust took off in a small Cessna 172 with a declared flight plan to fly to Stockholm. Instead, he turned around and flew to Moscow, managing to avoid all the Soviet air defenses. He landed in the Red Square, causing a huge scandal. The airport terminal has a plaque commemorating the event, now dubbed the “peace flight” (Rust explained that his intentions were to ease the tensions between the East and the West).

Rust’s Cessna 172 at the Museum of Technology in Berlin
Photo: Ora Lassila / So Many Aircraft

Helsinki’s main international airport, named Helsinki-Vantaa, was built for the 1952 Olympics that were held in Helsinki. It is the operational hub for Finnair, the national airline. Finnair is one of the oldest still operating airlines, founded in 1923. The airline was called “Aero” until the name was changed in 1968. Currently only KLM, Avianca, Quantas, Aeroflot, and Czech Airlines are older than Finnair – Czech Airlines by less than a month. Incidentally, the first aircraft to land at the new airport in 1952 were DC-3s, just like the one we are using on our round-the-world flight.

Related to our adventure’s theme of long-distance flying, a couple of people from the annals of Finnish aviation are probably worth mentioning here: Captain Wäinö Bremer flew a single-engined open-cockpit Junkers A.50 Junior in 1932 from Helsinki to Cape Town, South Africa and back. Bremer was also an accomplished athlete and a silver medalist at the 1924 Chamonix Olympic Winter Games. Mrs Orvokki Kuortti participated in the England-Australia air race in 1969 flying a Piper Cherokee Arrow, and finished as the fastest female pilot. She flew in other races as well, and among other things was the first Finnish female helicopter pilot. Both the Junkers Junior and the Piper Arrow are now preserved in Finland.

Captain Wäinö Bremer’s Junkers Junior on display at the Helsinki-Vantaa Airport; note that like many Junkers aircraft of that time, the aircraft is made of corrugated aluminum.
Photo: Ora Lassila / So Many Aircraft
Mrs Orvokki Kuortti’s Piper Cherokee Arrow in the hangar at the Helsinki-Malmi airport in 1978; note the racing number still in the tail and under the wing.
Photo: Ora Lassila / So Many Aircraft

About Helsinki

Courtyard of the Turku Castle
Photo: Ora Lassila / So Many Aircraft

The city of Helsinki (Swedish name “Helsingfors”) was founded in 1550 by the Swedish king Gustav Wasa, but did not become the capital until 1812, after Finland became part of Russia. The former capital was the city of Turku, on the Western coast of the country, closer to Sweden. Turku (its original Swedish name is “Åbo”) is the oldest town in Finland, and although the exact year of its founding is not known, it is mentioned in a Papal document in 1229. Notable landmarks in Turku include a castle and a cathedral originally dating back to the late 1200s.

Helsinki Cathedral
Photo: Ora Lassila / So Many Aircraft

Helsinki’s architecture, specifically in the downtown area, reflects the neoclassical 19th century architecture of Saint Petersburg, and before the collapse of the Soviet Union the city was frequently used to film movies depicting events in the hard-to-access Eastern neighbor. Examples of such movies are Doctor Zhivago (1965), Reds (1981) and White Nights (1985). One of the most distinctive landmarks in downtown Helsinki is a large neoclassical cathedral built in the mid-1800s.

Frozen Baltic Sea in Helsinki Finns regularly “walk on water”
Photo: Ora Lassila / So Many Aircraft

Geographically speaking Helsinki was built on a peninsula and several hundred islands on the coast of the Baltic Sea (Finnish: “Itämeri”; Swedish: “Östersjön”), and historically has been called the “Daughter of the Baltic”. The capital region, consisting of Helsinki and three other immediately surrounding municipalities of Espoo, Vantaa and Kauniainen, has about 1.2 million inhabitants. Most of the population of the country is concentrated in the south, with the northern parts being very sparsely populated. Did you know that about one third of the country, lengthwise, is above the Arctic Circle? This means that people living there have part of the year when the sun never sets, and part when it never rises!

“King’s Gate”, part of the Suomenlinna fortress
Photo: Ora Lassila / So Many Aircraft

Outside the Helsinki harbor lies the coastal fortress Suomenlinna (Swedish name: “Sveaborg”), built on eight separate islands. Construction of the fortifications began in 1748 while Finland was still part of Sweden. In the 1920s and 1930s the Finnish State Aircraft Factory (“Valtion Lentokonetehdas”, in Finnish) was based in Suomelinna and built aircraft for the Finnish Air Force. Today the islands are mostly an artist colony and a very popular tourist attraction, but also house the Finnish Naval Academy. One of the interesting things to see in Suomelinna is the preserved last submarine of the Finnish Navy, CV 707 Vesikko, launched in 1933. Vesikko was built in Finland, at a shipyard in Turku, but the design also served as the prototype of the German type II U-boat. During World War II, the Finnish Navy operated a total of 5 submarines, the Vesikko being the most modern.

Submarine Vesikko
Photo: Ora Lassila / So Many Aircraft

Note how we have given both Finnish and Swedish names to places mentioned in this article. This is because Finland is officially a bi-lingual country. Both Finnish and Swedish are used, and indeed are required to both be used in official government documents and communication. Compare this to, say, Quebec in Canada, where both English and French are official languages.

P.S. Today (June 4th) is the birthday of Finnish general Carl-Gustaf Mannerheim (1867-1951), who among other things was the commander-in-chief of the Finnish armed forces during World War II and subsequently the nation’s 6th president. The day is celebrated by the Finnish military with parades, etc.

Resources to learn more about today’s flight:

Finnair’s Airbus A350 takes off from Helsinki-Vantaa
Photo: Ora Lassila / So Many Aircraft

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