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BW-372 on display
in Finland
Cleaned up and its various pieces joined together, BW-372 is proudly on display at the Finnish Air Force Museum in Tikkakoski. (Photo: Wikipedia Creative Commons)

BW-372, at home in Finland

After Hurricane Ivan, BW-372 sat in a hangar at the Pensacola Museum of Naval Aviation in much the same desperate condition in she had arrived, her fuselage rough-cut in halves supported by sawhorses. The money, personnel, and time that would have gone into stabilizing and fixing the wreck had to be used to repair damage elsewhere. So it was a bit of a relief when, in 2008, the museum decided to loan the relict to Finland to honor the 90th anniversary of the nation's air force. Supposedly the loan was for three and a half years, and the museum was going to restore the plane, while visitors watched through a view window. It didn't work out that way!

BW-372's fuselage roughly joined This photo by Harri Huopainen, posted on a Finnish forum soon after the plane's arrival, demonstrates with what haste the poor thing was chopped in half so it could be flown out of Russia on its murky journey to Ireland. Altogether, five crates were used to transport the bits and pieces -- those that hadn't been stolen along the way. (At a minimum, those included the guns and some of the instruments.) Still, it's obvious that some work was done at Pensacola to stabilize the plane and prevent its further deterioration.

The FAF anniversary came and went, as did the purported 2012 date for returning the Brewster to the United States. My guess is that the Museum of Naval Aviation was sufficiently embarrassed by the whole affair -- the plane, after all, was surely obtained by bribery and close dealing, in the years when Russia was more of a Mafia organization than a nation-state. Pensacola can't simply give the plane to the Finns, because it was obtained by the exchange of "surplus" Orion aircraft, but it can leave it in place for years and perhaps forever.

In the meantime, the Central Aviation Museum of Finland has become the Finnish Air Force Museum, and some work has been done to make BW-372 more respectable, as you can see by the much-improved joining of the fuselage halves. (Compare Harri's 2008 photo with the more recent one at the top of the page.) Personally, I rather like this sort-of solution. The U.S. owns the plane but Finland has it on display, and any American who wants to view it will have to buy a ticket to Helsinski and rent a car for the three-hour drive to Tikkakoski. (Or fly to Jyväskylä.) It's open every day except at Christmas, and the entry fee is only €8.

BW-372 cockpit
The museum offers a virtual tour on its website. Here I found myself in BW-372's cockpit, so I quick took a screen shot of it it. Eerie, isn't it? I'm beginning to like this rough cut better than a pristine restoration.

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