A wistful farewell to Vinka aircraft, retired after faithful service
Text: Matti Remes Photos: Patria
The Finnish Air Force decommissioned the Vinka training aircraft after decades of service. The Air Force Academy held a farewell party in their honour in Tikkakoski on 31 August. One of the participants was Joni Mahonen, a Patria flight instructor, who logged a total of 1,063 flight hours on Vinka planes.
“I’m in a melancholy mood – during my career, I’ve worked with Vinkas for over 30 years.”
Mahonen first encountered the Vinka in 1989 during an aviation reserve officer course. He will never forget his first flight.
“I had no previous flight experience. And back then, flight simulators weren’t as realistic as they are now. Getting behind the controls of a real plane was a much bigger step.
It was a wonderful experience, as I’d wanted to fly ever since I was a little boy.”
While serving in various positions in the Air Force, Mahonen kept his Vinka skills up to date. He became particularly well-versed with the aircraft as a conscript trainer in aviation reserve officer courses.
After retiring from the Air Force, Mahonen became a flight instructor at Patria, which was provided basic training to the Air Force using Vinka aircraft since 2005. Patria has also been responsible for the maintenance and modification of the fleet.
Mahonen thinks that the Vinka has been an excellent training plane.
“It’s reliable and easy to fly. It’s more forgiving of pilot error than many other planes. You can perform almost the full range of aerobatic manoeuvres with it, with the exception of tail slides.”
In addition, the Vinka’s robust fixed landing gear withstand rougher touchdowns – according to Mahonen, this has been a plus in training use.
“And from the instructor’s point of view, it’s great that the plane enables you to sit next to the student and have access to the same controls and throttle.”
Mahonen says that the greatest challenge involved instrument flight training – for instance, in situations such as when clouds obscure vision from the cockpit.
“The pilot has to be careful to maintain the Vinka on the right heading, as the plane doesn’t have autopilot.” That said, after flying the challenging Vinka, it’s been easier for students to learn instrument flight on all other kinds of planes.
Design work on the Vinka began in the early 1970s at Valmet’s Aviation Development Department (IKO). The aim was to develop a domestic elementary training aircraft to replace the Swedish-made Saab 91D Safir planes.
A prototype, Leko-70, took off on its first flight in 1975. The next year, the Air Force ordered 30 aircraft. The prototype was designed in Tampere, where subassemblies were also made. Final assembly was transferred to Halli in Kuorevesi, along with other aircraft work.
The development of the new plane posed its own challenges. Once these had been solved, the first flight took place in late 1979. The next year, the Air Force started using the plane, which was christened Vinka.
“At first, only four Vinkas could be delivered, because a fire in the assembly hall just before Christmas 1979 destroyed the assembly jigs, the aircraft frames that had been sitting in them and the parts we’d stored in the hall for assembly,” says Juhani Stenhäll, who worked for IKO.
The three-seater Vinka has a four-cylinder piston engine. It has a cruising speed of 200 km/h and a ceiling of 3,000 metres.
“In addition to training, Vinka planes have flown Air Force liaison flights. They’ve also been used to provide assistance to other authorities as necessary,” says Mahonen.
Juhani Stenhäll became familiar with the Vinka when he started working at IKO in 1977. He was involved in the replacement of the electrical and radio equipment of the planes.
“After that, one of my positions was Vinka specialist technician, in which my tasks included drafting plane maintenance plans.
Stenhäll says that over their long service history, the Vinka aircraft have been modified in many ways, including minor structural reinforcements. The greatest changes were made in 2002, when the planes were approaching their 5,000 flight hour limit. Modifications added 2,000 hours to the service life of the Vinkas.
“We inspected the aircraft structures. The major modifications involved the renewal and strengthening of the wing-fuselage attachments and the replacement of sheet metal frames in the aft fuselage with machined ones. At the same time, we also modified their avionics equipment and installed more modern displays.”
“I feel a bit sad because I no longer see these familiar aircraft in the sky.”
The Vinkas provided interesting work to Stenhäll in addition to his other design tasks. Even after retiring from his duties as design supervisor, Stenhäll has come to Halli airport to watch takeoffs and landings.
Tommi Kangastie, Key Account Director at Patria, says that experiences of design, maintenance and flight gained during the Vinka’s lifecycle have been effectively harnessed in the design of other aircraft.
For instance, Patria is modifying the Grob G115E-FIN (GO) aircraft acquired to replace the Vinka.
“In their cockpit modifications, we’re replacing the avionics systems of a total of 28 training aircraft and carrying out the other maintenance required for their deployment,” says Kangastie.
Patria’s wealth of experience in flight instruction also came in useful during the modification work.
“We have a good understanding of what is important to both the student and instructor. We’ve sought to take this into consideration in design by creating a modern cockpit environment for flight students, which supports their readiness to move on to more demanding aircraft.”
Joni Mahonen is now serving as a flight instructor with GO aircraft. He says that they are lighter than the Vinka. According to him, the advantages of the GO include its state-of-the-art displays and user-friendly controls.
“The GO provides better situation awareness than the Vinka – in aviation jargon, that means that the pilot knows what’s going on around him. For instance, the plane is more stable during instrument flight.”