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Brewster 239 in Finnish service (part 4)

continued from part 3


A Buffalo on skis

During the late 30's the Finnish Air Force began serious experimentation with landing skis. And of course, when the Brewster-239's arrived during Spring 1940, they took part in experimentations too. During the time Brewster ski experimentations started the model of skis used, a pair of aerodynamic fixed skis (Which looked like half-cut drop tanks, with flat side down.) had been proved quite useless. They seriously weakened performance and handling qualities, and weren't really needed since it's quite easy to plough the snow off from an airfield. But since the Air Force brass was interested in project it was continued...

The fixed model of skis were installed to BW-370 in April 1940, and after few unsatisfactory test flights it was retrofitted with retractable landing gear. But the story wasn't over. In 1941 a satisfactory retractable ski installation had been developed by the VL (Valtion Lentokonetehdas, The State Aircraft Factory), and experimentation began with numerous types, including Brewster, during April 1941. This time the installation was almost a working one, and during next winter experimentation continued and some ski-fitted Brewsters were sent to the front line Brewster Squadron, the Fighter Squadron 24, in November 1941.

But almost immediately, in December 1941 the pilots had had enough of skis. They were very vulnerable and prone of accidents. They decreased maximum speed with 30km/h (19 mph). And most importantly, both installation and deinstalation required some modifications (such as lengthened exhaust pipes) for which the aircraft had to be sent back into aircraft factory, thus being out of use in both springs and falls.

Anyway, the experimentation continued with BW-355 in Air Force Test Fligth during winter 1941-1942 and finally the speed was decreased by only some 4-10km/h's (2.5 to 6 mph). But by spring 1942 the Air Force had lost it's interest to project and it was buried.

A Finnish triumph of reverse-engineering - the Humu

During the 30's it was a common policy in the Finnish Air Force to have manufacturing licence of almost every plane model in use. This was to ensure national self-sufficiency of spare parts and planes.

So when the Brewsters were delivered to Finland during spring 1940, the negotiations to buy a manufacturing licence of Brewsters to Finland were started. But the cost was too high, starting cost was 100 000$ + 1000$ per plane, and possibility of purchasing large amounts of aluminium was nil. But when Buffalo proved itself to be an excellent fighter plane in 1941, the Air Force asked VL (Valtion Lentokonetehdas, the State Aircraft Factory) to made a copy of Buffalo. The project was code named BR at first, and then "Humu" and was planned to have a Soviet M-62 or M-63 engine. Other chief differences to original Brewster design were:

-Wings were made of wood because of short supply of aluminium. (Of course there was a large number of Soviet planes shot down during the war, but most of these were melted into horse-shoes (!) or confiscated by the front line troops and made into ashtrays or rings or something as useful during the spare time...)

-The fuel tanks were in fuselage, instead of wings.

-Armament included only two heavy .50 cal MG's in the fuselage

-It didn't have any windows in the bottom

In 16th of October 1942 the Finnish Air Force ordered a test batch of four planes, final order would be 90 planes. The BW-392 was modified for testing the wooden wing and installation of fuselage fuel tanks and M-63 engine. In 5th of June 1943 it was destroyed after taking off and killed the pilot in process.

There were serious difficulties in designing and production, and when it became obvious that Buffalo would be antiquated against new Sovier LaGG's, Yak's and Airacobras, the order was first cut back to include only 60 planes and then finally cancelled in 17th of June 1944. But one prototype was completed in 8th of August 1944. After 19h 50min's of flight time it was placed into storage in January 1945.

The only Humu, marked HM-671, was restored in 1972-1974 and is nowadays on display in Keski-Suomi Aviation Museum in Jyvaskyla, Finland.

A performance comparison, Humu / Brewster 239

Speed: 430km/h / 478km/h

Empty weight: 2036kg / 2020kg

Flight mass: 2563kg / 2415kg

Max. altitude: 8000m / 9900m

Armament: 2 .50 cal / 4 .50 cal or 3 .50 & 1 .30 cal

Smaller experiments and trivial knowledge

- BW-367 was fitted with Fairchild F.24 oblique recon camera.

- BW-363, -365, -371, -374, -379 and BW-392 were fitted with Soviet Shvetshov M-63 engines and with either Russian AW-1 or Finnish Wegelius propellor. The Soviet engines were very unreliable, partially because there wasn't anykind of manuals available.

- BW-371 was unique, having only two heavy mg's in fuselage

- The windows in the bottom were usually either painted up or removed.

- One of the good qualities of the Brewster was having a large empty space behind the pilot's seat. This was used to ferry people and important military supplies, such as beer, from rear depots to front line bases. The probable record flight was with a Brewster ferrying pilot, three mechanicians, a Schafer dog and some spare parts.

(Main source for these: "Suomen Ilmavoimien historia..." "Lent{j{n näkökulma...")


The best source for pictures and painting schemes of Finnish Brewsters is of course the "Suomen Ilmavoimien historia 1: Brewster Model 239", and if you're modeller who's really into Brewsters I highly recommend it. These remarks are just for those who want to know something about a plane from some picture.

When delivered in 1940, the Brewsters were just natural aluminium colouring. They were camouflaged in Spring-June 1941 and most of them retained camouflage right until the end. Tactical markings were used right from the beginning.

The most visible tactical marking in Brewsters were of course the large yellow "Ostfront" stripes (usually) painted in both engine cowling and into the fuselage just behind the canopy. They were painted immediately after the outbreak of Continuation War and were painted over immediately after cease-fire with Soviet Union in 4th of September 1944.

The tactical markings for the each Flight in Squadron 24 were:
1st Flight: Blue spinner, blue rudder with white numeral
2nd Flight: Black spinner, black rudder with white numeral
3rd Flight: Orange spinner, green rudder with orange numeral
4th Flight: Red spinner with a white stripe, White rudder with black numeral
The Lynx-sign of the Squadron 24 was originally sign of the 1st Flight but it was rapidly painted on each one of the Squadron's planes.

For the Fighter Squadron 26, the following markings were used:
1st Flight: Yellow or white numeral in fuselage, right up from the wings leading edge root.
2nd Flight: Yellow or white numeral just below the cockpit.
The Brewsters of the Fighter Squadron 26 had swastikas right until final disbandment in January 1945. But the 7 planes used for liaison duties from August 1945 to September 1948 had white-blue-white roundels.

(Sources: "Suomen Ilmavoimien histori..." and some work with photos.)


Humu = Means a hobo, bum, or hassle
Ilmavoimat = The Finnish Air Force
Lentolaivue (LeLv.) = Literally "Flight Squadron", means Squadron
Lentue = A Flight, usually 7 to 9 planes
Hävittäjälentolaivue (HävLlv.) = Fighter Squadron
Puolustuslaitos = The Finnish Defence Forces during the wars, literally "Defence Agency"
Suomi = Finland
Suomen = Finlands
Valtion Lentokonetehdas (VL) = The State Aircraft Factory, known with name Valmet Aviation nowadays.

If you want to make it clear in a model stand, for example, that a plane belongs, for example, to the 1st Flight of the Fighter Squadron 26, then the correct marking is: 1./HävLlv 26