Finland MiG 21 Fishbed – On 6th March 1918, three months after Finland’s declaration of independence, the Finnish Air Force (Suomen llmavoimat) was created when Count Eric von Rosen donated a Morane Saulnier Type D parasol monoplane built by Thulin. The aircraft carried the Count’s blue swastika as a good luck charm and this was adopted by the Finnish Air Force as its national insignia until changed in 1945 for blue and white roundels.
Finnish pilots started their initial conversion training to the MiG-21 F-13 in the Soviet Union on late 1962. On 24th April 1963 the first ten of an eventual 22 Moscow-built MiG-21 F-13s (izdeliye 74) fighters were ferried to Kuopio-Rissala AB in Karelia by Soviet pilots, followed by a further eleven in November same year; one more was procured in 1965 as an attrition replacement. Two MiG-21 U (izdeliye 66-400) trainers arrived on 1st April 1965. The single-seaters had serials prefixed MG (derived from ‘MIG’), while those of the trainers were prefixed MK (meaning MiG kaksipaikkaiset – ‘two-seat MiG’); in the Finnish Air Force the single-seater and the trainer were short-coded MGF and MKU respectively.
The two variants ultimately equipped Hávittájálentolaivue 31 (31st Fighter Squadron, HavLLv) based at Kuopio-Rissala AB, which started MiG-21 operations on 9th May 1963. When deliveries were completed, it suddenly came to light that the unit had more fighters than it could operate or had hangar space for, and six aircraft were placed in storage at Jyváskylá- Luonetjárvi. As a temporary measure, some MiG-21F-13S were later sent to HavLLv 11 at Rovaniemi, where they stayed until the arrival in 1972 of the Saab 35BS Draken.
In 1971-73 nine of the MiG-21 F-13s were modified for photo reconnaissance duties, carrying two Vintén camera pods under the wings. Such aircraft were short-coded MGT (for tiedusteluversio – reconnaissance version). These aircraft were transferred to the Reconnaissance Squadron (Tiedustelulentolaivue, TiedLLv) at Jyváskylá- Luonetjárvi; the unit was formally established on 1st September 1973, yet the recce version became operational as early as April 1973. From 1980 onwards, as HavLLv 31 reequipped with the MiG-21 bis, all surviving MiG-21 F-13s were progressively transferred to TiedLLv, though not all of them were equipped for reconnaissance duties.
Three MiG-21 F-13s (not more than one at any one time) were operated by the Air Force’s Flight Test Centre (FTC) at Halli and outfitted with test and recording equipment.
The last flight of a Finnish MiG-21 F-13 took place on 17th January 1986; the honour fell to MG-92. Starting in 1985,14 of the retired fighters were converted to decoys to be placed on the outskirts of aircraft parking areas. This involved removing the engine, stripping out all equipment and cutting up the wings and tail so that they could be folded to ease transportation by road. The converted aircraft received bogus serials and a MiG-21 bis-style camouflage.
The type was succeeded in HavLLv 31 service by the 26 MiG-21 bis (izdeliye 75A) fighters, which were ordered in late 1977 and began to arrive in Finland on 21st September 1978. The type was selected over the MiG-23MS, which was too expensive and maintenance- heavy; besides, the MiG-21 bis would be easier to master in view of the Finnish Air Force’s prior experience with the MiG-21 F-13. The new version was short-coded MGB. The initial order was for 20 aircraft, followed by a second order for three in December 1984 and three more in 1985. Curiously, all aircraft arrived with the serials already applied; with the final six MiG-21 bises the Finns played a counter-intelligence trick, requesting false serials which were promptly changed on delivery.
The Finnish company Valmet at Halli refitted all of the bises with Western communications/ navigation equipment and flight instruments. MG-114 was the first to be thus modified in February 1979.
Six of the new arrivals were modified in Finland for reconnaissance missions, using a Vintén external camera pod on the centreline pylon, and unofficially given the local designation MIG-bisT (for tiedusteluversio, short- coded MGBT). They served with the TiedLLv at Jyvâskylà-Luonetjàrvi. These aircraft had Italian Electrónica SpA radar warning receivers fitted in 1987, with small MiG-21 R-style wingtip fairings added as a recognition feature. The centreline pylon could also be used for carrying a Philips 9CM120X chaff dispenser pod or a Selenia SUALQ-234 active jammer pod viihen the aircraft acted as an electronic warfare ‘aggressor’ during exercises. All MiG-21 bisT aircraft were transferred to HavLLv 31 in 1995 to replace attrition losses of fighters.
Six MiG-21 UM (izdeliye 69A) trainers were received by the Finnish Air Force between 1976 and 1982. Two of them proved to be defective and were returned to the manufacturer, who supplied replacement aircraft with the same serials, so that a maximum of four was in service at any one time. This version was short-coded MKM.
The MiG-21 F-13s, and initially the MiG-21 Us as well, were flown in overall silver finish. Later, the Ilmavoimat used a succession of camouflage schemes. To make the aircraft less observable the national insignia were downsized dramatically and the white background to the ‘leaping lynx’ squadron badge of HavLLv 31 was eliminated. From February 1989 onwards the serials, originally writ large on the centre fuselage on camouflaged examples, were reduced to almost illegible size for security reasons and moved to the cockpit area.
Replacement of the MiG-21 Ws and also the SAAB Draken in the three Finnish fighter squadrons began with the arrival of the first of 57 McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C Hornets and seven F/A-18Ds on 7th November 1995. The surviving MiG-21 bis and MiG-21 UMs were withdrawn from use in March 1998.