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Tue, Jul 19, 2005

Gimme Back My Brewster

Finland Wants The Last Surviving F2A-3 Buffalo

The National Museum of Naval Aviation has a Finnish Brewster Buffalo in its possession, and the Fins want it back. The airplane had ditched into a Russian lake in 1942 and was recovered in the 1990s by an American businessman.

Aviation enthusiasts in Finland want the US Navy to return the Finnish air force plane. It is currently in the collection of the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola.

"Many air force officers, active and retired, would like to see it back here," said Col. Jarmo Lindberg, head of the Lapland Air Command to the AP. "Certainly WWII veterans and many other people feel very strongly about this."

Finland's leading newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, recently ran a story claiming that the plane still technically belonged to Finland.

The Brewster Company got the contract to produce the US Navy's first all-metal monoplane fighter in 1935. Although underpowered for the US Navy, 44 of the planes were sent to Finland, where they eventually ended up being used after the country joined in the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union in 1941. Finnish pilots were able to perform their missions very well with the Buffaloes.

"It may be a historical footnote in U.S. aviation, but for Finnish military and war effort the Buffalo is one of the main cornerstones," Lindberg said. A massive search began in the 1970s to recover an example of the aircraft.

Gary Villiard was also searching for a Buffalo for the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola. In the 1990s, he located and recovered the airplane from the icy waters of a lake in the Russian region of Kerelia. The aircraft arrived at the museum last year.

The plane recovered was flown by one of Finland's top aces, Lieutenant Lauri Pekuri, who had over 18 kills, 8 of them in this machine. In his last mission in the aircraft, he was attempting to evade Russian Fighters at low altitude. After taking hits, he managed to down his attacker, but was forced to ditch the aircraft. He managed to return to Finnish forces and fly for  two more years before being shot down again. This time, he was captured and sat out the rest of the war.

Rather than restore the aircraft to a flying configuration, the museum decided to preserve it as it looked when it sank to the bottom of the lake.

With the exception of some bullet holes, the plane was well preserved in the lake. The museum plans to exhibit it in Finnish national insignia because of its historical significance. The aircraft has a blue hakaristi on the side, a Nordic symbol of good luck that happened to resemble the German swastika.

The head of the Pensacola museum, US Navy Captain Robert Rasmussen, said the US Government may be willing to loan it to a Finnish Museum.

It doesn't seem to be much of a priority to Finnish diplomats. They said that despite lobbying by the aviation community, they were not pressing Washington to return the Buffalo.

"The Brewsters are important to us, but we haven't done anything to recover this one," said Kristiina Helenius, spokeswoman for Finland's embassy in Washington.

FMI: http://naval.aviation.museum

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