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Finnish RF-61F Reporter - Retirement

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Over Exposed! - Part 8: Going Out in Style

As the 1950s came to a close, so too did the Reporter's career with the Ilmavoimat. Still serving with HämLsto, the overall silver RP-999 had acquired a helpful strip of anti-glare in front of the cockpit, a red '9' on the rudder, and larger, bordered national roundels. While the Vampire couldn't perform the reconnaissance mission and the troublesome Pembroke didn't have the Reporter's performance, the Soviet Union had a plane that could perform all the missions that the Reporter could, but with the speed of the Vampire—the Il-28. The Ilyushin Il-28 was a Russian three-seat twin-engine light bomber, and the Il-28R was its reconnaissance version.

Finland bought four Il-28 aircraft, one bomber variant and three recon variants. All of these aircraft were equipped with cameras (with different optimization) and fitted for target towing. The first two aircraft, bomber and recon, were bought in 1959. As production of the type had ended in 1956 the aircraft were used and overhauled. The second batch consisted of two recon variants purchased in 1965. The operational base was Utti, but the aircraft were based elsewhere as necessary for the complete mapping of Finland. The Finnish aircraft type code of 'NH' may seem unusual given the aircraft manufacturer, but the designation reflected the type's origin and primary role. 'NH' stood for Neuvostoliittolainen Hinauskone, meaning Soviet Tow plane. The designation also has some humor in it. The Finnish transliteration of Nikita Khrushchev is Nikita Hruštšov, so the aircraft were called "Nikitas". The "Nikkes" were reliable aircraft with good flight characteristics, despite being heavy on the controls.

Ironically, the Finns used their Il-28Rs to spy on the neighboring "Bear" to the east, skirting the border and then drifting over when the coast seemed clear to inspect any suspicious activity on the eastern side of the fence. The local Soviet air defense command found the Finnish Beagles a persistent nuisance but never managed to shoot one down. It is interesting to wonder if the Soviets ever thought, when they sold the Il-28Rs to Finland, who besides the USSR the Finns felt they really needed to keep an eye on.

Whatever the case, the Il-28's entry into service soon led to the retirement of the RP-999. By that time, the circumstances surrounding Finland's acquisition of the 'Over Exposed' was somewhat of an open secret and the RF-61F Reporter was no longer state of the art. When put on display, RP-999 was once again adorned with the nose art that she wore when the Finns originally found her. Her display markings were a combination of those from the beginning and end of her service, a fitting tribute to a long and successful career.
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