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Estonian Air Force
Eesti Õhuvägi
Insignia of the Õhuvägi Flag of the Estonian Air Force.png
The coat of arms and the identification flag
Founded 1918
Country Estonia
Size 250 (+400) personnel
2 aircraft
4 helicopters
Part of Estonian Defence Forces
Command HQ Tallinn Õhuväe Staap
Ämari Lennubaas
March "Lennuväepoiste laul"
Anniversaries 21 November 1918
16 December 1991
Engagements Estonian War of Independence
Battle honours 1st Class Service Cross
2nd Class Service Cross
3rd Class Service Cross
Commander of the Estonian Air Force Colonel Jaak Tarien
Roundel Roundel of the Estonian Air Force.svg
Battle flag State Flag of the Estonian Air Force.png
Aircraft flown
Helicopter Robinson R44
Transport C-17 GM III (part of NATO SAC)

The Estonian Air Force (Estonian language: Eesti Õhuvägi , About this sound listen ) is the name of the unified aviation forces of Estonia. The Õhuvägi is the main arm of the Estonian aviation forces. The average size of the military formation in peacetime is about 210 men. The Estonian Air Force is tasked with dealing with political, military, economical, social, environmental and psychological threats. The Air Force has an important role in enhancing flight safety in Estonian airspace.


World War I and after


Estonian B.E.2 in the Estonian War of Liberation

The roots of the current organization go back to the Russian revolution of February 1917, after which the Estonian state obtained a degree of autonomy within Russia, which included the establishment of national armed forces. Thus many Estonians in the Russian Army returned home to take up arms for their homeland. The Estonian Declaration of Independence in early 1918 was not recognized by Germany, which invaded and occupied the country during 1918. The Estonian armed forces were disbanded.

After the armistice on 11 November 1918, the Estonian Provisional Government immediately set about establishing a military aviation unit. On 21 November 1918 Voldemar Victor Riiberg, the Commander of the Engineering Battalion, assigned August Roos to organize a flight unit. The Aviation Company of the Engineer Battalion began to establish air bases near Tallinn for seaplanes and land planes, but it was not until January 1919 that the first operational aircraft was acquired - a captured Soviet Farman HF.30.

In the meantime, on 22 November 1918, the Soviet Red Army had attacked Estonia and soon occupied most of the country. The fledgling Estonian Army, with foreign assistance, managed to counter-attack in early January 1919 and went on to liberate the country by late February. It subsequently moved on to liberate Latvia. Aviation Company aircraft flew a limited number of missions in support of the army. Following the February 1920 peace treaty with the Soviet Russia, the Estonian Army was demobilized, but the Aviation Company was retained. With the delivery of more aircraft it was reorganized as an Aviation Regiment (Lennuväe rügement), comprising a landplane squadron, seaplane squadron, flying school and workshops. More bases and seaplane stations were built.


French GL.2 fighters in the Estonian Air Force


An Estonian Avro Anson in the late 1930s

Some Aviation Regiment pilots were involved in a pro-Soviet coup attempt on 1 December 1924, but this was crushed within hours. From 1925 the First World War era aircraft were gradually replaced by more modern types. During 1928 the Aviation Regiment came under the control of an Air Defence (Õhukaitse) organization which included the Anti-Aircraft Artillery.

In 1939 the Estonian Air force consisted of about 80 active airplanes (Bristol Bulldog, Hawker Hart and Potez 25 biplanes from the 1920s, but also the more modern Avro Anson multipurpose aircraft and Vickers Wellesley bombers) in three groups stationed at Rakvere, Tartu, and Tallinn. The Navy also maintained two multipurpose aircraft wings.[1]

World War II and after

Plans to acquire Spitfires and Lysanders from Britain were thwarted when the outbreak of World War II in 1939 forced Britain to cancel all export orders. After the defeat of Poland, Estonia was forced to accept a Mutual Assistance Pact with the Soviet Union, signed on 28 September 1939. This allowed the Russians to establish military bases in Estonia, which were later used in the Winter War against Finland. On 17 June 1940 the three Baltic States were invaded by Soviet forces. Bogus soviet-style elections were organised and the resulting communist parliament applied for membership of the Soviet Union. This was granted on 6 August 1940. During the June 1940 invasion the Air Defence took no action and subsequently aircraft remained locked in their hangars. The air force became the Aircraft Squadron of the 22nd Territorial Corps of the Soviet Army in the summer of 1940.

On 22 June 1941 Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. The speed of the advance was such that Estonia was soon cut-off from Russia by German forces. The 22nd Territorial Corps was ordered to evacuate to Russia, but many Estonian personnel deserted and joined the guerrilla forces fighting the retreating Red Army. The Germans were welcomed as liberators when they arrived.

During the subsequent Soviet presence, Estonia became heavily militarized, with some 10% of the population being Soviet troops based at over 500 military installations.

Current state

The Estonian Air Force was re-established at 16 December 1991 after the restoration of independence of the Republic of Estonia in 1991. The Air Force was slow to reform because the Soviets had damaged or destroyed most of their infrastructure before leaving.[citation needed] The Eesti Õhuvägi (Estonian Air Force) was formed on 13 April 1994. In February 1993 the German government donated two Let L-410UVPs transport aircraft. In October 1994 three Mi-2 helicopters were delivered, followed by four Mi-8s in November 1995. Initially tasked with ground based air surveillance and air defence using only old Soviet radars and AAA equipment, on 15 May 1997 the Air Force moved into the former Soviet Su-24 base at Ämari, south of Tallinn. In 1997-98 two of the Mi-8's were upgraded.

The Õhuvägi has been rebuilding the destroyed military infrastructure left behind by the Russian Army. Most of the funds have been directed to the Ämari military airfield which will be completed around 2010.[2] The objective of developing Ämari Air Base is to cooperate with NATO and partner nations air forces and being able to supply standardized airfield and aircraft services necessary for Host Nation Support. Due to the lack of modern and developed military aviation infrastructure, the Air Force development has been very slow.


One of the main goals of the Air Force is to build up an air surveillance system, which will be the cornerstone of the air traffic safety and airspace control. The second priority is the development of the Host Nation Support capabilities for air operations with further implementation of crucial peacetime Air Defence capability - Air Policing. One important milestone will be the development of the air surveillance system to the level, which allows close cooperation with the NATO air defence system. The purpose of Ämari Air Base is to work together with NATO and partner nations air forces and provide the standardized airfield and aircraft services to provide the Host Nation Services.

Ranks and insignia

Generals Senior officers Junior officers
Õhuväekindral.png Õhuväekindralleitnant.png Õhuväekindralmajor.png Õhuväebrigaadikindral.png Õhuväekolonel.png Õhuväekolonelleitnant.png Õhuväemajor.png Õhuväekapten.png Õhuväeleitnant.png Õhuväenooremleitnant.png Õhuväelipnik.png
Estonian language:
Kindral Kindralleitnant Kindralmajor Brigaadikindral Kolonel Kolonelleitnant Major Kapten Leitnant Nooremleitnant Lipnik
General Lieutenant General Major General Brigadier General Colonel Lieutenant Colonel Major Captain Lieutenant Junior Lieutenant Ensign
Senior NCOs Junior NCOs Soldiers
Õhuväeülemveebel.png Õhuväestbveebel.png Õhuväevanemveebel.png Õhuväeveebel.png Õhuväenooremveebel.png Õhuväevanemseersant.png Õhuväeseersant.png Õhuväenooremseersant.png Õhuväekapral.png Õhuväelane.png
Estonian language:
Ülemveebel Staabiveebel Vanemveebel Veebel Nooremveebel Vanemseersant Seersant Nooremseersant Kapral Reamees
Chief Warrant Officer Staff Warrant Officer Senior Warrant Officer Warrant Officer Junior Warrant Officer Senior Sergeant Sergeant Junior Sergeant Corporal Private

Structure and units

Structure of the Estonian Air Force.

Estonian Air Force Staff batch medium.png Air Force Staff

The Air Force Staff is highest command of the Estonian Air Forces and represents the military concept-developing, command and executive structure providing Air Forces peacetime, crisis and wartime leadership in order to reach, maintain and increase, as required, the operational level of the military subordinated structures so that to be able to operate under authorized commands responsible for military operations planning and conduct.[3]

Estonian Air Surveillance batch medium.png Air Surveillance Wing

The Air Surveillance Division is the unit which develops the national air surveillance system to the level that allows to detect and identify all flying objects in Estonian airspace with maximal probability and transmit information about their location and movement with sufficient degree of accuracy on 24 hour basis. The main mission is to process and collect information from radio locational surveillance systems, interceptor fighters during their patrol flights and from other airspace surveillance sensors.[4]

Air Bases and airfields

Although the Estonian Air Force inherited a large number of former Soviet Air Force airfields in 1991 during the restoration of independence, most of them were disbanded within the early 90s due to non-existing need for such airfields. The Estonian Air Force has one active main air base and occasionally uses a civilian airfield in Tallinn.

Estonian Ämari Air Base batch medium.png Ämari Air Base
  • Utility helicopter team
  • Light transport aircraft team
Estonian Ämari Air Base batch medium.png (Tallinn Air Base)
  • Estonian Border Guard Aviation Corps logo.png Border Guard Aviation Corps

Aircraft and equipment

Estonian Air Force Aero L-39C in 2013.

Estonian Air Force Antonov An-2 in 2013.

The modern Estonian Air Force has been rebuilding the destroyed military infrastructure since 1994 when the last Russian Army units left Estonia. Most of the funds were directed to the Ämari military airfield which was completed in 2011. Due to the lack of modern and developed military aviation infrastructure the Estonian Air Force development has been very slow.

Aircraft Origin Type Versions In service Notes
Robinson R44 United States
utility helicopter
An-2  Soviet Union
light transport
RQ-11 Raven United States
Estonia bought 1 RQ-11B UAV from USA for missions in Afghanistan.
Aero L-39 Albatros  Czechoslovakia
Light ground-attack aircraft
Aero L-39


  • Ground Master 403 medium-range air defense radars - planned[5]
  • Ämari Air Base reconstruction - completed


  1. Schnitzler, R.; Feuchter, G.W.; Schulz, R., eds (1939) (in German). Handbuch der Luftwaffe [Aviation Manual] (3rd ed.). Munich and Berlin: J. F. Lehmanns Verlag. pp. 65. 
  2. (Estonian) NATO investeeringud
  3. Eesti Õhuvägi - Õhuväe Staap, General Staff of EDF.
  4. Estonian Air Force - Air Surveillance Wing, General Staff of EDF.
  5. Estonian-Finnish joint radar purchase


  • Gerdessen, Frederik "Estonian Air Power 1918 - 1945". Air Enthusiast No 18, April - July 1982. Pages 61–76. ISSN 0143-5450.
  • Humberstone, Richard. Estonian Air Force, 1918-1940 (Insignia Air Force Special No.3). London: Blue Rider Publishing, 1999.
  • Gerdessen, Frederik; Kitvel, Toivo and Tilk, Johannes. "Aeg, mehed, lennukid" Tallinn: Eesti Entsüklopeediakirjastus 2001
  • Kitvel, Toivo and Tilk, Johannes ""Eesti lennukroonika: tekste ja pilte aastani 1940" Tallinn: Aviopol 2003
  • World aircraft information files Brightstar publishing file 329 sheet 9

External links

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