Flying Through Eastern Europe
We like chasing older or rare aircraft types to fly. That in combination with being Dutch makes that everything Fokker has a special place in our hearts. We already flew the Fokker 70 to Basel, the Fokker 50 twice (Antwerp to London in 2019 and Stockholm to Sundsval in 2020) and even did two joy flights with the aerobatic team Fokker Four in historical Fokker S.11 Instructor aircraft. The Fokker 100 was still missing in that line up, and we already anticipated that we would have to travel to Australia for that. However, thanks to a heads up from a Facebook community called “Special Flights Enthusiasts”, we learned that Air Baltic would use two Carpatair Fokker 100s in the summer of 2022 at scheduled routes. This opportunity was made for us, we thought. So, we started our quest with booking nice flights between Helsinki and Riga and back. Now that we had flights planned in north-eastern Europe, we started looking for any other special planes flying in the area. And boy did we find them! This blog is all about this crazy trip in the Baltics and Finland with special moments, special places and above all: special flights!
Tuesday 2 August 2022 – Back to the Soviet Era
Our trip starts at Eindhoven Airport for a flight with an airline we have not tried out yet: Wizzair. The flight would bring us to Riga, the capital of Latvia. We did not pay a lot for the flight, so we did not expect a lot either. And not much was exactly what we got, except for a perfectly safe and – to be honest – pretty comfortable flight. Yes, we are being separated because we did not want to pay extra for seats. No, neither of us is at a window seat. But overall, our A320 HA-LYH did a great job. Once landed at Riga Airport we take some time to do some planespotting from the terminal. The terminal building at Riga Airport is great for photography. The windows are large and clean and there is a lot to be seen in the area. We already can see the two Fokker 100s doing their best in Baltic service! Time to get excited!
The next thing on our planning is to visit the aviation museum at Riga Airport. It is recently relocated to the other side of the airport, which means a Bolt cab is the most convenient way to get there. While waiting for our Bolt, we take the time to photograph a RAF Avia Antonov 26 and an Air Urga Saab 340 parked near the fence. Then, our ride shows up and we take the 10-minute drive to the museum. However, this is not your everyday western-civilized, properly arranged museum, but more like a Soviet boneyard with an entrance fee.
We are dropped in front of the fence that should be the entrance, but there is nothing but a sign and a phone number. Apparently, we had to call that number for the owner to cycle to the fence, but we already see some other guests being escorted out by the owner. 10 euros per person lighter we were allowed to enter the property. The owner, being an old Russian man, tries to convince us that we can leave our luggage out in the open, but we prefer taking it with us, with the owner not understanding why.
Then, we look around at this place. Aircraft and aircraft parts are scattered all over the place. The aircraft are in several stadiums of decomposition, which adds to the Soviet feel of this yard. However, the items on display are really cool and we enjoy taking some great photos of the various fighter jets, helicopters, a Tu-134 and even a Tu-22 Backfire. What a start of this journey already!
After a couple of hours, we decide to leave the museum – therefore we had to call the owner again to let us through the fence again – and do some plane spotting at Riga Airport again. Besides an Air Horizont Boeing 737-400 and a Maleth Aero Boeing 737-300 there is not much of interesting action, so we opt for taking a bus to the city center and our hotel. As the bus driver does not speak any language but Russian and our Russian skills are njet-existent, he offers us a free ride as we do not understand how to purchase tickets with the app – a new system that the driver does not understand either. After checking in our hotel, we discover the beautiful city of Riga which is a mix of Soviet and Germanic architectures. We are pleasantly surprised by the vibrant colours of the city.
Wednesday 3 August 2022 – Exploring Riga
Today we have not much planned but simply strolling through the city. We want to see the old Soviet trains that still operate in Latvia. As it is pretty hot outside, we mostly look for the shades. The station in Riga is not at all what you would expect from a (European) capital city central station. However, they are currently working on a modern railway network throughout the Baltic states. After the trains part we go to the big market which is situated in old blimp hangars. Cool to see, hot to be around haha! All in all a peaceful and quiet day. But why are there soooo many bridal boutiques in Riga? We count over 50 separate showrooms in one single street!
Thursday 4 August 2022 – See you later Riga, hello Tallinn
The alarm goes off early today as we leave the hotel for Riga Airport again. Today we will fly a new aircraft type for us: the Bombardairbus A220 towards Tallinn, capital city of Estonia. Security in Riga is quick and in no-time we are airside to buy some breakfast and to shoot some planes. The morning sun gives a golden shine over the Fokkers and the Air Horizont 737-400. We love our classics!
Then our plane arrives and we head to the gate. It is an empty gate, and as it turns out the flight is also nearly empty. Only 15 other passengers are on board our brightly coloured YL-CSK. The flight is short but very comfortable. The whale sounds of the engines are a funny experience from the quiet cabin. In the approach to Tallinn we see a Tu-134 painted in bright yellow and red as it is in use for emergency training. At Tallinn there are several stored airframes as well as some Boeing 737s in primer paint. Also two UH-60 Blackhawks are present. After disembarking our CS-300, we leave the terminal for a little bit of plane spotting near the runway before heading to our next hotel.
Our hotel is next to the train station. Unlike Riga, Tallinn has a big station with lots of trains. However, no Soviet era trains here but modern Stadler Flirts, both diesel and electrically powered. Next to the hotel is a preserved Soviet steam locomotive, pretty impressive! We wonder through the historic city of Tallinn for a couple of hours before we need to head back to the airport again...
We are back at the airport! This afternoon we fly a small turboprop for a quick return flight to the island / province of Hiiumaa, to its capital Kärdla. This small turboprop is a BAe Jetstream 32, flying for Transaviabaltika, operated by AIS Airlines from the Netherlands! Our ride for today is PH-FCI, a plane delivered in 1989 to Nashville Eagle in the USA. During our bus ride across the apron towards the remote located Jetstream, we came across an interesting line up of parked aircraft including a Klasjet Boeing 737-500, a Redwings A321, a Sky Up Boeing 737-900 and a Fedex (ASL) Boeing 737-400F.
When the bus doors open we are free to board the small cabin. The plane is very warm inside and the windows have an annoyingly blue tint which makes photography and videography pretty hard. Seating is first come first serve. Row 1 does not have easy access to the windows, so we opt for row 2. The flight is completely full, which means that a stranger is sitting in the middle seat. Bummer. However, the flight is quite fun as we bounce around the sky like a paper plane. The noises coming from the engines are more like screams from your nightmares, but we somehow landed safely. Fun flight, check out the video as well to completely understand what that landing was like haha!
After securing the first row with the captain for our flight back to Tallinn, we quickly head to the tiny terminal building for a quick check-in, security check and reboarding. This all took less than five minutes! But, we are seating just behind the cockpit so our view for this flight should be good. And heck it is good! The engines are being started and the takeoff is spectacular! We quickly make a left hand turn back to Tallinn.
The flight itself was a over before we knew, time literally flies when you are having fun. For the landing, the pilots decided that the only would need the second half of the runway, so we are still almost cruising as we fly over the runway threshold. That is a really short landing, but it was a great short flight again. We taxi back to the hangar where a bus was already waiting for us. What a great experience with this truely special plane! The video is even more spectacular! After this flight we returned to our hotel for a good night sleep, with our room literally next to the trains... Good night!
Friday 5 August 2022 – Ferry to Finland
In the early morning, even before sunrire, we are heading towards the port of Tallinn to board the MS Finlandia, operated by Eckerö Line. This ferry will ferry us to our third country this trip: Finland! We board the ship and order some properly expensive breakfast. We enjoy the food while the doors close and we set sail to Helsinki in the first rays of the morning sun. Leaving behind a stunning view of the beautiful historic city center of Tallinn. During the cruise, we are using the ships wifi to check on Vesselfinder for other boats and vessels in the area.
That is when we learn that a "US Military Vessel" should be close by on the other side of the ship. As we actually had made ourselves really comfy in the lounge, I (Lars) opt to go and take a look to see if this potentially interesting vessel would be visible. I walk to the other side of the ship and that is where my heart explodes. Really close by is a real US Marines aircraft carrier, packed with aircraft on deck! I rush back to get Marieke and we head straight to the top deck outside to soak up this beautiful black silhouette cruising alongside us in the sun. Top Gun in real life!
A quick search on Google learns that this is the 257-metre amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge, and it is currently also on its way towards Helsinki. The news page even states the dock where she would dock, and the odds were with us as that dock is right next to the dock where we would dock! Docking amazing! We enjoy the view as the Kearsarge comes closer and closer. We are moving faster though, which means that we should have some time to see her come into the harbour as well.
As we arrive in our dock, we rush of the ship towards a good vantage point where we see the carrier coming in. On deck a wide variety of USMC aircraft is visible. MV-22 Ospreys, MH-60 Seahawks, UH-1Y Venoms, AH-1Z Vipers and even AV-8B Harrier jump jets are present. What an amazing sight.
After this surprise encounter we make our way to an observation platform, which happens to be still closed. So, we buy two day tickets for the trams and buses in Helsinki and start exploring the city. How different is Helsinki from the previous two capitals that we just have visited. And boy it is expensive! We see some ice breakers and some other classy looking buildings in the city. Then, we want to see if the observatory is already open and head back to the harbour. Here we have a stunning view on the coastline, the countless islands and above all, the Kearsarge. Also, a MiG-21 is on display at the terrace. However, we do not have much time left, as we need to head for the train station to catch our train to Helsinki Vantaa Airport! We will be leaving Helsinki again this afternoon.
Helsinki Vantaa Airport is a nice airport with interesting regional traffic. The windows in the terminal are clean and we find ourselves an empty gate to spend a couple of hours to do some spotting. What a nice traffic there is! We see a Dornier Do328, Jetstream 32, Embraer 120 (which we will fly later this trip), a Saab 340 and a Saab 2000 (which we also will fly later this trip. Then, it is time to head to our gate. This afternoon we will fly one of the oldest ATR-42s left, the Danish Air Transport OY-JRJ. This is a subsidized service between Helsinki and the small town of Kajaani. Kajaani is a small town in the heart of Finland, in the province of Oulu.
We board the plane and enjoy the view as the colourful engines start spinning. The flight is not at all full, so we have two rows for ourselves. How cool! The seats are very comfortable and the humming and resonating engines make that I almost fall asleep. After a spectacular approach we land in Kajaani and quickly leave the plane, hoping to catch a bus to the city. How naive of us it was to think that it is logical that if the only flight of the day arrives, there would be a bus service. No, the bus had just left minutes before we landed. And the next bus is not leaving untill 23.00 that evening, which means that we have to wait there for another four hours. Luckily, some friendly locals help us out and give us a ride to our accommodation.
Arrived in our accomodation, the sky just wanted to cry. It rains for almost an hour before we head to the city center (or at least, the certral square) to try to find some dinner. A military orchestra is playing at the square and we are suprised how much life there actually is in Kajaani. We buy our groceries for the next day (and moan a lot about how insanely expensive this country is) and then head for the adjecent restaurant. That evening we spend wandering around Kajaani and discovering the ruins of Kajaani Castle, an old border post right in the middle of the river.
Saturday 6 August 2022 – Polar Express
The next morning we walk early to the Kajaani train station for our longest train ride ever so far, all the way to the northern town of Rovaniemi. This city is famous for its location on the arctic circle, and is home to the worlds northernmost McDonald's. And it is (one of the) official office locations of Santa Claus. The over-five-hour train ride is smooth - except for when we hit a moose with our locomotive which meant a 30 minute delay - but the weather is not good at all. Raindrops jingle all te way towards our final destination. We have a nice luxurious hotel next to the Santa Village, but as it is August and the midnight sun is just starting to decay, we do not see any northern lights unfortunately. Actually, it does not get dark at all. The last photo is taken at just after midnight, the darkest it got all night.
Sunday 7 August 2022 – Back to Helsinki
The next day we had a relaxing breakfast in our huge room. The view of the forest from our bed is stunning, we would love to go back here in winter when there is all snow and northern lights. Today, we have another train ride scheduled, but before we head to the bus to Rovaniemi city, we explore this cute Santa Village. There is an official Santa Claus post office, numerous gift shops, reindeer and lots more! The overal vibe is really good and we even have a meet and greet with Santa himself. How suprised are we that Santa even speaks Dutch fluently! We are excited about this place and we are sure that we will come back here one day.
A random bus takes us back to Rovaniemi train station, where we take the train to Kemi, at the west coast of Finland near the border with Sweden. Here we need to go to the airport, however scheduled bus services are practically non-existent, so we decide to walk 50 minutes to the airport. During this walk we learn that Google Maps is not that accurate in these rural regions and several roads/paths are not there when we need to take them. In the end, we got to the airport and we just had to wait for security to open for one of the only flights of the day: Nyxair to Helsinki via Kokkola. This will be our first Saab 2000 flight!
Our ride for todays two-legged flight is Saab 2000 ES-NSI. We are excited to board the sleek looking propplane. The cabin looks nice, and it feels nice and comfortable. Not long after boarding is completed we get a safety briefing and we are off! The cabin attendant does not seem to be all that enthusiastic as we are, but at least he does not mind that we are taking photos and videos. There is also no service during the flight. We are amazed how quiet this plane is, especially compared to the Jetstream 32 and the ATR-42. The Saab 2000 is a very fast turboprop, and after a short flight we already descend for our stop in Kokkola.
Turnaround in Kokkola is quick, and we rapidly depart again for the final leg back towards Helsinki. The weather is pretty cloudy and with the sun in our faces it is difficult to see out of the window, but all in all we have a good flight. After landing we take a quick look in the cockpit before being transported back to the terminal. This night we sleep in the Clarion hotel at Helsinki Airport. Not that great view of the ramp action, but at least the best bed we have ever slept in.
Monday 8 August 2022 – Back to Riga
With a bed that is sooo soft, so amazingly comfy and soo big, it is hard to get out. So we take our time to enjoy it as long as possible (with just sleeping, let that be clear :p ). After checkout we have some time to spare before our flight to Riga leaves, so we first pay a visit to the Finnish aviation museum that is situated right next to the hotel. They have a nice collection of some special planes with as highlights for us a Convair 440 and a Lockheed Lodestar. During our museum visit we hear a loud rumbling noise that sounds kinda familiar. After checking Flightradar our suspicions were confirmed: a DC-3 Dakota just took off from Vantaa. We start to speed up our museum tour and make our way to the terminal, hoping we can make it to the windows before the Dakota returns. Challenge accepted!
With no queue at all for security we rush to the windows. Luckily, we start to get to know Helsinki Airport, so, we know the way. The Dakota had just landed, but not vacated the runway yet. We grab our cameras just as we hear it start to spool up again! Gracefully the old lady takes to the skies again. Today we will do the flight that started this whole journey to the Baltics and Finland: the Carpatair Fokker 100 to Riga. However, we have over 4 hours to kill here. Luckily for us, there is so much action going on! The ATR fleet from Finnair does still perform powerbacks for departure, which is always impressive to see. The DC-3 also returns and after a while, takes off again, and there are plenty of other interesting visitors at the airport. There is a Wideroe DHC-8-400, an ASL 737-400F and even a US Navy C-130 Hercules. Time literally flies by.
Then, it is time for the main purpose of this trip. Fokker 100 YR-FZA appears on final approach and we watch it taxi to its (remote) stand. Then it is time to head to the gate. A bus takes us to our little Fokker (which is actually one of the larger planes we fly this trip..). We already have selected our seats and since the flight is not that full, the row in front of ours is also still empty. So we both have a window seat.
The door closes and we listen to the sharp spool up of the two Rolls Royce Tay engines. When taxiing out, we say goodbye to ES-NSI, which is still parked at the same spot we arrived yesterday. After quite a long taxi, we enter the runway. The engine spool up to full throttle and as a real Fokker can do we rocket into the air! The views of the Finnish coastline are stunning with all the tiny islands. We also can spot the blue ferry, MS Finlandia!
We continue our climb over the Gulf of Finland and soon we see the beautiful city of Tallinn. After Tallinn the clouds come back in, so there until we start our descend again we will not see the ground. When we finally sink through the clouds again, we are already over Riga again. The landing during sunset is beautiful and after a quick peak in the flight deck we say goodbye to the FZA and make our way to the airport hotel. Tomorrow we will fly FZA back to Helsinki again!
Tuesday 9 August 2022 – Back to Helsinki, again.
The next morning we immediately get back to the airport, as today we have again great distances to cover. First, we fly back to Helsinki with the same big little Fokker as yesterday: YR-FZA. Then, we will take the train towards the coastal town of Pori. As this is the final time that we will be at Riga airport this trip, we take the opportunity to enjoy the views to the max. And we are just in time, as the second Fokker, YR-FKB, already taxis out for her journey towards Norway. After we had our breakfast, it is time to head to the gate. We have again another bus gate, and we are dropped at our good old jet. We quickly find our seats and shortly after that the engines are already starting. We take a last glance at the parked Q400s who are retired from service with Air Baltic.
Then, the Tays spool up again and the Dutch Fokker thunders down the runway. Like a rocket, we reach for the skies, leaving Latvia behind. The weather has significantly improved, and we have a good view over Gulf of Riga and later of the green landscapes of Estonia. Then, we see Tallinn again, which indicates that Finland is not far away now. And the pilots were aware of that fact as well, as they commence the descent already. As we fly lower and lower, the thousands of islands at the Finnish coastline come into view. Then, there is Helsinki, the modern city, beautifully visible from the left side of the plane.
We make a large lefthand turn into final approach and not long after the pilots butter the bread. What an amazing flight this was! We simply love these old jets, and we were entirely in our element these days. We say goodbye to the crew, took some nice photos in the cockpit and got onto the bus and back to the terminal. We couldn't help to notice the little "<3 Fokker" sticker on the cockpit door. We make our way to the train station with a short stop at the Subway for some lunch. Try to get that smile of our faces! :p
Then, we took the airport train to the nearest VR trainstation to get on our last long train ride this trip. Here we find a supermarket to empty our wallets and stock our food supplies. The first leg is a double decker train to Tampere, where we need to transfer to a Pendolino for the final leg to Pori. The train ride is quick, but still takes over three hours. The entire reason that we do this train ride to Pori is the flight for tomorrow, the Budapest Aircraft Service Embraer 120 Brasilia HA-FAN. This flight can be booked as a transfer ticket with Finnair, which makes it a lot cheaper. So, we booked it to transfer in Helsinki for our flight back to Amsterdam.
Anywayzz, Pori. What on earth can we expect there? A post-apocapyptic concrete zoo with Soviet influences that is. Okay, there is a nice church and a cool boat. For the rest, there is an airport as well. And rental bikes. And, we know that on the other side of Pori airport, there must be a Fokker F.27 Friendship, which is hopefully visible from outside. So, we rent two bikes (via an app, of course), and set of for a nice drive. There is not much action around the airport, excepts for some skydivers and their Cessna. The sun is out and to our surprise, we do actually find the Fokker. It is on private property behind fences and containers, but we do see it! :D
Now we can drive the 30 minutes back. What a day it was. Thank God for the airconditioning unit in our hotel room. Now get to sleep, as tomorrow we want to be really early at the airport.
Wednesday 10 August 2022 – Back to Helsinki, again, and then back home
The next morning we are early at the airport, which is at a walking distance from the city center and our hotel. We want to be so early as we do not have our boarding passes yet. Early is an understatement, as we are practically the first people to arrive there today. Not a single employee in around. However, that gives us time to explore the tiny terminal and do some work. We are happy, as we got an email that we were granted executive photo passes for the Edwards AFB airshow in October 2022! We are already stoked. Then, the first employees enter the terminal and the agent asures us that we are properly checked in, and that we do not need a boarding pass for this flight. Then, we see the flight crew waiting behind us at the security checks. We start a conversation with them, and the captain invites us to join them during their morning checks around the plane.
How cool, there she is, HA-FAN. She is the most colourful plane in the BAS fleet. It is another international party here, a Brazilian built plane from a Hungarian airline, piloted by a South-African captain and an Italian first officer, and a Hungarian cabin attendant operating a flight in Finland. Slowly the dawn starts to brighen the skies over Pori and gives the little Embraer a stunning blush. She looks amazing and we have a great time capturing it all while having fun conversations with the crew. Then, it is time for the other five (!) passengers to board.
After boarding was completed, the propellors start spinning and we make our way to the runway. After take off we can move freely across the plane. The cabin attendant provides drinks and chocolate, and shares her stories of her carrier as a cabin attendant for Malev on the Tupolev Tu-154. You deserve respect, madam! The sun gives a stunning glow on the engines and propellors as we make our way to Helsinki. The flight is pretty straightforward and before we know it we land again at Helsinki. Final time in HEL for now. We taxi to our remote stand and say goodbye to the amazing crew. We wave goodbye to HA-FAN as the bus takes us back to the terminal. Back upstairs and to the other gates we go.
During our transfer to the Airbus A350 that would take us back to Amsterdam, we saw some other aircraft that perfectly fit this trip but we had not yet seen this trip. Another Nyxair Saab 2000 SE-NSF, and the other European Fokker 100, Idealtours 9A-BTE. We do not have too long to enjoy the views as our flight already starts boarding.
The flight on this long range widebody feels so different to all the small commuter planes we have flown the last couple of days. This plane is quipped with inflight entertainment, a camera on the tail and has such a different feel. All in all, the flight is great and we have an amazing view over the Netherlands as we make our way to Schiphol.
What a trip this was. From the Soviet era to the arctic circle and flying so many special aircraft types. This journey will be remembered for a long long time!