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Finnish RF-61F Reporter - Over Exposed!

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Over Exposed! - Part 2: Crossing the Finnish Line

As Capt. Tanner and Capt. Stroud nursed their stricken RF-61F towards the Finnish border, the PVO aircraft could tell that it was in trouble and attempted to force it to land on Soviet territory. Even on one engine, however, the Reporter was not easy prey. Tanner jettisoned the drop tanks, and the fact that one engine was feathered seemed to streamline the plane considerably. Just as it seemed the American spy plane was boxed in, the Soviet fighters were ordered to return to base as they had crossed the Finnish border near Salla. Even so, Tanner and Stroud were not out of the woods, yet. They were still in a damaged aircraft far from any active airfield, and Lapland in the winter was far from hospitable to stranded aviators.

Once reasonably sure that they were over Finnish territory, the two men began looking for a suitable place to land. Spotting what he correctly assumed was a frozen lake, Tanner began setting up for an emergency landing. At that time, he decided to boost the power on the good right engine for a normal single engine landing, but discovered that the propeller governor was inoperative as well as the manual switches. Also during the descent the propeller had somehow worked itself down to a little less than 1,800 rpm. He realized that he would not be able to get much power out of the right engine and accordingly tried to time his turns to reach the lake in a low power glide. In order to clear the trees on approach, he planned to come in a little high. He dropped his wheels about two miles out and when he was sure of making the lake, he dropped full flaps and opened the cowl flaps to slow the plane down. As the plane touched down, Tanner turned off the ignition and battery switches, skidding to a stop on the lake surface.

The interception of 'Over Exposed' by the Soviet fighters that had approached the Finnish border was also noticed from the ground by the Frontier Guard. They reported that the aircraft had landed somewhere to the west and patrols soon found the American plane and its crew. The Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs notified the American Legation of the incident and arranged for the return of the airmen. The aircraft, however, was a more complicated matter. The two countries recognized that the Soviet Union would object if the Finns merely gave the spy plane back to the United States. In an attempt to avoid an international incident, it was agreed that Finland would 'confiscate' the trespassing Reporter, but turn over the photographs that the plane took on its risky flight over the northern Russia. Additionally, the US would pass along the spares necessary for the Finnish Air Force to repair the plane and return it to flight. The trade benefitted both parties. The photographs reassured Western leaders that long-range bombers were not deployed on the Kola Peninsula. For their extraordinary aerial feat, the aircrew members each two Distinguished Flying Crosses, though the SAC commander, General Curtis LeMay, made it plain he would rather have decorated them with the Silver Star. That award, however required the approval of a board in Washington whose members were not cleared to know about the Soviet overflights.

On the Finnish side, the incident was officially recorded as merely "a high-altitude electric storm". Bringing the matter to light in the media would have been impossible in the political climate of the time. The daily newspaper Uusi Suomi nevertheless got wind of the incident and published a piece about it. The Political Section of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs immediately branded the news item as a cock and bull story. For much of the Cold War, Finland reported that they had merely purchased the RF-61F from the US for evaluation purposes, which was a complete fabrication. An Ilmavoimat team was assembled to recover the aircraft, and—despite their unfamiliarity with the type—they soon had the aircraft repaired and running. ‘Over Exposed’ had its American markings hastily painted over to obscure its origins and Finnish markings were added for its flight south. While all the aircraft numbers and USAF roundels were painted over with light gray, the recovery team could not bring themselves to paint over the pinup.

The greatest challenge to getting it out of there was the aircraft’s sheer size. The RF-61F was the heaviest aircraft ever operated than the Ilmavoimat, heavier even than the massive LeO H-246s borrowed from the Germans in 1944. This was also the first tricycle landing gear aircraft operated by the Finnish Air Force, as well. A Knight of the Mannerheim Cross, Major R. Birger Ek was one of the most experienced and decorated Finnish bomber pilots of the Second World War and was at the time serving as the Finnish Military Attaché in London. Arrangements were made for Maj. Ek to get a familiarization flight in one of SAC’s remaining RF-61Fs based at RAF Scampton before getting temporarily recalled to Finland. After a few taxi runs across the surface of the frozen lake, Maj. Ek got the big plane airborne and proceeded to the Flight Test Center at Tampere. There the aircraft could also be studied by the engineers of the State Aircraft Factory (Valtion lentokonetehdas, VL). Once a few test pilots were checked out on the aircraft, Maj. Ek returned to his posting as military attaché in London. While his association with ‘Over Exposed’ ended there, RF-61F 44-71999’s career with the Finnish Air Force was just beginning.
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anonymous's avatar
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perttime's avatar
Great profile - and I like the way you sorted out the politics of getting "Over Exposed!" into Finnish colors.

The pilots were lucky that the lakes were well frozen in October.
comradeloganov's avatar
Thanks, pertttime! Yeah, that was a concern of mine, but from what I was reading, it wasn't uncommon for the smaller lakes to freeze over in Lapland starting in October. Is that incorrect? I really did try to look up historical weather information for Finland in 1948, but I had a tough time finding much, at least in English. What I did find seemed to indicate that it was a roughly average year for overall temperatures. I can always change the dates in the text if it wouldn't have happened in Lapland in October.
perttime's avatar
I don't live in that part of the country, and didn't spot very good information about when the lakes usually freeze there - or in 1948... What I found suggests that mid October may be cutting it a little close, to get the ice strong enough for a heavy airplane - but it is possible, especially for the smaller lakes that freeze more quickly.

November would be a little safer to ensure there is ice - but if you go too late, you might get a heavy layer of snow and the landing gear gets ripped off when it sinks into the snow.
comradeloganov's avatar
Alright, November it is! I changed it to the original date of 44-61999's accident, 3rd November 1948, since that's the aircraft this one is based on.
perttime's avatar
Perfect! A fitting date in more than one way.
bear48's avatar
comradeloganov's avatar
Thanks! I'm glad you like it! Check out the rest of my profiles and photos if you like this one.
anonymous's avatar
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