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Estonian Air Force celebrates 102nd birthday

A Czech-built Aero L-39 Albatros trainer jet in Õhuvägi service.
A Czech-built Aero L-39 Albatros trainer jet in Õhuvägi service. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The Estonian Air Force (Õhuvägi) celebrated its 102nd anniversary on Saturday.

The Õhuvägi shares its anniversary with that of Estonia's navy, being founded on November 21 1918, some months after the country declared independence.

The early days saw a flight unit commanded by August Roos, and was part of the engineering battalion initially.

The Õhuvägi started obtaining its first aircraft, emblazoned with a distinctive blue-black-white roundel (actually a triangle - ed.), soon after and continued to grow in the 1920s and 1930s, later merged into the First Republic's air defense arm.

On the eve of World War Two it comprised about 80 planes including Bristol Bulldog and Hawker Hart biplanes, but was unable to get more state-of-the-art equipment before the Soviet occupation put an end to independence, with the invaders establishing a major air base in the vicinity of the present-day Lasnamäe residential district.

Restoration of independence in 1991 paved the way for a newly reestablished  air force command and control headquarters in Tallinn, which was set up in 1994. The air force, like the navy, is organizationally a part of the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF), rather than a separate service.

As a small country, but also a NATO member since 2004, Estonia's air force capabilities are hugely augmented by the presence of the alliance's rotating Baltic Air Policing duties, based at Ämari. Currently the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) are responsible for the mission, and the air forces of France, Britain, Spain, the Czech Republic and other NATO members have also taken on the mantle.

In addition, U.S. Air Force planes including the far-famed B-52 strategic bomber, the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft and also the unmanned General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper drone, have been frequent visitors to Estonia, and the Õhuvägi also operates trainer jets, transport planes and helicopters under its own right.

ERR News congratulates the Õhuvägi on its 102nd anniversary.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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