The Caudron G.3 was a 1914 development of the earlier G.2, an example of which was used by Will Scotland, called Blue Bird, to set several records in New Zealand in early 1914.
Without doubt, an airgasm could be defined as the very first time that you soloed the aircraft and the fantastic sensation of accomplishment and satisfaction that it gave you. However, as you age, you find that you still get the same exhilarating feeling of being airborne, but perhaps not as often as when you were a young eager beaver pilot.
Recently I found that such a feeling overcomes me when I discover, or rather stumble upon, some hidden treasure trove of aircraft or parts or both, stored somewhere in a place not normally found in aviation circles and totally unsuspected of containing such treasures.
This story begins with a journey from my home in Canada totally unrelated to aviation. Did you ever think as a youngster that somewhere on this planet there could be a possibility that you have a twin? Not a parental twin, but someone who looks just like you? Or maybe you thought that somehow, in some weird way, you might have another sibling hidden away in some strange part of this globe, perhaps a brother or sister?
Crazy thoughts like this might go through our heads when we are young, but I found this can be true. Some short months ago I found out that I did indeed have a brother, a half brother, living in Finland, and so begins my journey back to the country where I was born but left at the age of five.
This “brother”, as it turns out, was a dark, dark family secret from the time of WWII, a secret shared by many families at that time. There were rumours, but not one of my existing relatives had ever set eyes upon this mysterious relative.
My 92-year-old aunt finally revealed to me his name and this is how the journey started. I advised my cousin and he said, “We are going to make this a family reunion, invite the whole tribe and finally put this all together.”
I was going to meet my brother and he was coming to reunite with the side of the family that he had longed to meet for such a long time. I had to go back to reunite with my family.
So here I am in Finland, dodging reindeer while driving a rented Renault the size of a Campbell’s soup can, with what seems to be a handful of rodents running around in a squirrel cage barely powering this vehicle to such rocketing speeds as 80km/hr with a good tailwind.
As I am rambling through the countryside, the road suddenly widens from two lanes to about eight, with a sign “emergency landing field” for aircraft. This extends for about 3km and to my surprise is regularly used by the air force for training purposes.
On this trip I also plan to visit any airfield that I find along the way, and especially any aviation museum that may lurk in the shadows, for I have been told of a few museums that have sort of ceased to be or are attended very sporadically by the odd surviving WWII pilot acting as caretaker. After speaking with some aviators, I am on the trail of one such museum.
I turn off the main highway and drive for what seems like an eternity but am unable to locate the road described to me by the old timers at one of the airports. A passing cyclist directs me to a small village and this gives me some sense of hope that I am indeed on the trail of something worthwhile. A villager instructs me to follow this indicated small road and to drive until I locate the museum.
I drive and drive but no museum. Acknowledging defeat, I pull into the driveway of a small farmhouse and yes, the farmer does know what I am looking for and says that I drove right past it some 12km ago. Following his directions, the Renault pulls into this dusty driveway and it leads me around three long red buildings, one of which looks like it could be a hangar, and as I turn the bend, there is an old MiG-15 directly in front of me.
One MiG, three buildings, dusty driveway, but no people and definitely no runway or any other flying machine to be seen.
I poke around and there is a sign “Museum closed for the winter”. Hey dude, this is summer, it’s not even autumn! But I still have faith as there is an old faded telephone number scribbled down at the bottom. I dial the number. It rings, a slow deep voice answers and I ask if the museum would be open for viewing.
“No, not until the summer,” and I presume he means next year. He asks if I can return then and I tell him my tale of coming from Canada, searching for my relative and hoping to see some aviation history.
“Be down in 15 minutes,” he says. As I wait, I wander the grounds and behind one of the buildings is an enormous set of floats — and I mean enormous — and they are old. I can only imagine what they came off, but they have to be 60 or 70 years of age. If this is an omen of things to come, then I am waiting with bated breath.
A car pulls into the driveway, an elderly man gingerly climbs out, and with a slow crouched walk, he ambles over to me. He speaks quietly, softly and asks if I have an hour or two to spare and agrees to show me through “some” of the buildings.
As he opens the first door, a dusky smell wafts through the air. He turns on the lights, and in front of me are things that I have not seen before.
He starts by telling me the history of the aircraft portrayed upon the wall, the different uniforms worn by the aviators during different periods of history, and then I see a field of equipment, equipment that includes everything from ejection seats, Bf 109 gyro compass, starters for different aircraft, a complete panel from a Vampire trainer, machine guns of all sizes and calibres from aircraft that I cannot name.
I am so captivated by the stories that this gentleman tells that I now know I should have taken more photos as there was so much to see. We wander for what seems like a short time, but I am sure it must have been an hour.
But it does not end here. “Want to see the aircraft?” he asks. Do I want to see the aircraft? That is like asking if a frog’s ear is waterproof.
Back out into the sunlight we wander, his trembling hand unlocks the door and we step inside. The place is loaded with parts, with accessories, with tyres, with wings, with everything plus some wonderful, wonderful aircraft, such as I have never set eyes on before. The elderly gentleman knows the history of each and every item in this warehouse, stories about the aircraft, dates, names, for he is a walking encyclopaedia of the vast hoard of bits and pieces of history stored here, under shelves, behind partitions, piled up against the wall and stored in crates.
Instantly my eyes catch sight of something very majestic. I have never seen one, but there in front of me stands a Caudron G.3, a WWI successor to the G.2, designed by the French but manufactured under licence in Finland.
According to Wikipedia, “The Finnish Air Force purchased twelve aircraft from France in 1920. Six of these were built in Finland by Santahaminan ilmailutelake between 1921 and 1923. The aircraft had a short crew nacelle, with a single engine in the nose of the nacelle, and twin open tailbooms. It was of sesquiplane layout and used wing warping for lateral control, although this was replaced by conventional ailerons fitted on the upper wing in late production aircraft.”
It is both ugly and beautiful. What this means to me is that this is a really neat aircraft, an unusual aircraft, and apparently only one of a handful still surviving. I can’t take my eyes off this surviving relic.
As the hours tick by, the stories of these aircraft captivate me and the way that this gentleman narrates them is truly fascinating. The fact that he takes the time to tell me about the history of what they have stored away in these buildings signifies how much he too cares about aviation and the history surrounding it.
How did all of these aircraft end up here? In this small village was once the headquarters for the military aviation repair and maintenance shop in Finland. When the aircraft outgrew their usefulness, the military donated the parts to the museum which they faithfully stored.
This warehouse contains parts for most aeroplanes that the military flew from the 1920s to the 1950s, and they have not only lots of parts but also duplicates and triplicates of parts that are probably not available anywhere else in the world.
I viewed the IVL Haukka first flown in 1927, the Bristol Bulldog RAF single-seat fighter from the 1920s, the Czech Aero A.11 built in 1925, the German Rumpler 6B floatplane fighter introduced in 1916 and the 1927 Finnish designed VL Sääski II. Standing on guard in the yard, surrounded by the slowly creeping underbrush, was the 1950s Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15.
I gently asked if anything they had was for sale. The aircraft were not, but any of the parts they would gladly sell to anyone requiring the hard-to-get and difficult-to-replace unique pieces.
Restoring something and can’t find the parts? It’s probably sitting right here in one of the little red buildings, quietly waiting for someone to take them to the air again. This is what I would call an airgasm, wouldn’t you?
- Report and photographs by Jorma Kivilahti.
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