FolkestoneJack's Tracks

The Kaivopuisto Air Show

Posted in Finland, Helsinki by folkestonejack on June 9, 2017

Throughout the year Finland has been celebrating the 100th anniversary of independence and we were lucky enough that our visit coincided with one of the highlights – the Kaivopuisto Air Show.

Air shows have been held in central Helsinki sporadically through the twentieth century, many of which took place over the waters of Katajanokka and Kaivopuisto. The location is more appropriate than it might seem at first. The first Finnish airlines operated from the islands off Helsinki and Finnair can trace its origins, through its original name of Aero Ltd, to Katajanokka Seaplane Harbour in 1924. The air force founded a factory in Suomenlinna in 1920 which is still visible to this day.

The Finnish Air Force F/A-18 Hornet lights up the skies above Helsinki

The idea of reviving a free air show over the shoreline of Helsinki was inspired, particularly as the display line from Katajanokka to Pihlajasaari ensured that the largest possible number could enjoy the spectacle. The lead performers were to be the Red Arrows, who were the last foreign display team to have performed a full show at Kaivopuisto (in 1970).

It was a little hard to imagine that the conditions would be fit for flying as a combination of heavy rain, low cloud and sea fog had lingered in Helsinki for the entirety of yesterday. Although the evening had been set aside for rehearsals the most we had seen was a single helicopter so it was a relief when the roar of jets above us this morning signalled a re-arranged session. The weather was quite superb with clear blue skies and sun dominating (ignoring the short-lived threat of some sea mist that rolled in over the islands in mid-morning).

Finnair A350 XWB OH-LWF flies over Suomenlinna during its display

We could see that the spots with the best photographic vistas were already starting to disappear fairly early on, so made the decision to take up a couple of spots on the wall alongside the road at Kaivopuisto, not too far away from display centre. The view was gorgeous – immediately in front of us we had the islands of Uunisaari, Harakka and Särkkä with the more distant backdrop of the Naval Academy and church on Suomenlinna.

I could happily have stayed at our chosen spot for hours watching the world sail by, with everything from the smallest sailing boat to gigantic superferries in our line of vision, so a couple of hours passed easily as we waited for the airshow to start. Some of the movement on the water was clearly connected to the air display, such as the warship and coastguard vessels that appeared to be guarding the display exclusion zone. Unfortunately I hadn’t come prepared for the sun, but fortune smiled on us by supplying some free caps.

Finnair A350-XWB (OH-LWF) flies over Kaivopuisto

The air show was a delight from start to finish, with a rather different feel to any that I have been to before – a combination of the unusual setting, exotic planes and a terrific crowd vibe. There was so much to like – from the ingenious display of hangliders, flyboarders and seaplanes that opened the show, through to the local stars (such as the Finnish Douglas DC3, Finnish Fouga CM170 Magister pairing, Finnish Air Force Hornet, Finnish Border Guard Air Patrol and Finland’s Midnight Hawks display team).

Another highlight was a low flight over Kaivopuisto by one of Finnair’s ten strong fleet of Airbus A350-900s on the appropriately numbered flight AY350. The plane taking part in the show, OH-LWF, as delivered almost exactly one year ago. It looked rather splendid as it passed overhead at the culmination of its 26 minute long circular flightpath. After taking part in the display this plane is scheduled to depart for Hong Kong just before midnight.

The Red Arrows perform the detonator during the Kaivopuisto air show

The display helped me see the Red Arrow display from a fresh perspective, despite my relative familiarity with their display routine. It was lovely knowing the familiar pattern of the display, such as the arrival from behind the crowd or the big set pieces (especially the breaks, rolls and the smoke-drawn heart) and enjoying the incredible crowd reaction. The audible sound of hundreds of thousands of spectators gasping in surprise or delight was quite something else! The crowds gave the RAF team an enthusiastic round of applause which grew even louder when the Red Arrows returned for one final pass trailing blue and white smoke in honour of Finland’s 100th anniversary.

The crowds gradually thinned following the Red Arrow display, but the numbers walking back towards the Market Square at the end of the show were still pretty huge. At its peak it was pretty impressive and felt as though most of Helsinki was at the waterfront. In a little bonus we were delighted to see the take-off of the sea planes midway through our walk back to the centre, even if it did delay our hunt for food a little (the show officially finished at 9pm but with the walk back it was not until 10.30pm that we managed to find a table in a restaurant).

The Midnight Hawks provide a fitting finale to close the Kaivopuisto airshow

After the event we heard that the air show had attracted a crowd of at least 130,000 spectators to Kaivopuisto alone, let alone any of the other viewing spots. This figure was sufficient to make this the largest public event in Finnish history! It was certainly one of the most enjoyable air shows that I have ever attended and the memories of the day will stay with me a long while.

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