Estonia is the northernmost nation of the three Baltic republics, its capital Tallinn is only 80 kms away from Helsinki across the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Finland.
Amari is the only Estonian Air Force Base situated along the road connecting the city of Kelia to the port of Haapsalu, about 40 km south-west of Tallinn.
The base, built in 1945, covers an area of 798 hectares and has one runway 2450 meters long and 45 wide; up to 1952 the air base has not been used since it was as a reserve, while in the 60s and 70s, was intensely used by the bombers of the Soviet Navy regularly redeployed there for training activities. Perhaps not many remember that with the Treaty of Yalta, signed in 1940, the Russians agreed with the Nazis to occupy the Baltic countries. Amari and all Estonia were occupied by Soviets until 1991, a date which marks the restoration of independence of the three Baltic Republics.
In 1993 Russians sold the airfield to the Russian Ministry of Transportation and only two years later the first flights of aircraft belonging to the newly formed Estonian Air Force took place, on November 1st 1995 with a Mi 2 helicopter and on of December 11th of the same year with a An 2 aircraft; then in 1996 the Ministry of Defense took control of the Base, but only through the act dated May 15th 1997 the Minister of Defense declared the official establishment of the Amari Lennubaas (Air Base).
Amari Air Base is nowadays in a state of transition regarding to infrastructures, some have just been reconstructed to the Western standards, while others like the runway, taxiways aprons and hangars/shelters are still in the original Soviet standards, therefore not able to allow NATO aircraft operations. Taxiways are soon to be completely refurbished as NATO has allocated one billion Kroon (about 73 million euros) for the complete rebuilding of the Base, restructuring that once completed will allow any kind of operations of Air Force members in the North Atlantic Treaty in an area which has always been considered a strategic one.
To date, the Air Force is equipped with three An 2, used for transport and paratroop duties, and four Robinson R 44 helicopters that since 2002 have replaced the antiquated Mi 2 used for a variety of specialties. Finally in the inventory of Air Force we found a surprise consisting in two brand-new L 39 Albatros, which were delivered just a month before our visit which took place at the end of August. The two jets are owned by a commercial society that has leased them to the Armed Forces, this feature evidenced by the fact that they carry a civil registration. However they are in effect in charge to the Air Force and flown regularly by military crews; after a brief period of anonymity on the wings of the aircraft have been applied regular white/blue/light blue triangular marking of Estonian Air Force. During the presentation of the Albatros my two proud hosts expressed strong hope that the Air Force will acquire in the future is own jets.
The main missions of the Air Force are supporting the Estonian Army, the Navy, the Border Guard (Border Guard). Of those the only paramilitary forces that have a component of aircraft is the Border Guard, "Piriivalve Lennusalk" in local language. The Border Guard operates from Tallinn International Airport, precisely from the technical area where they occupy a large space with hangars and logistics services. Their equipment consists of a single Mil Mi-8T helicopter and two Let 410 Turbolet aircraft. They are used to patrol the coasts and borders and for search and rescue duties. Towards the end of this year they will receive an AW 139 helicopter with a second machine on option. This helicopter has been ordered to AgustaWestland on November 29th, 2005 by the Estonian Minister of Interior, Ministry which has the competence to manage the Border Guard.
In addition to national joint operations special attention is given to cooperation with NATO nations of which Estonia is a part; this means a strong commitment to participation in national and international operations such as Baltic Challenge, Baltic Bikini, NATO Air Meet, Shamrock Key among others.
As we mentioned, this nation has been occupied by Russia for many years and everyone which has a chance to visit it surely will find wide traces, first for culture and appearance of the city, and less visible aspects of the presence of a huge amount of military facilities, many of which are now demolished. We could see how many of these remains are still in the area by participating in a training mission aboard a R 44 helicopter. We took-off early in the morning and flew for about an hour across the sparsely inhabited area that stretches west of Tallinn between Lennubaas Amari, Paldiski and Keila.
In this area, mainly covered with coniferous forests, are still very evident and visible remains of infrastructures, in particular some silos for the launch of ballistic missiles and many touring Draggable ramps mounted onto trucks; at the port of Paldiski you can see what remains of a major nuclear submarine base and a research center for the use of sonar. Also a small nuclear power plant surrounded, as far the eye can see, by a myriad of bunkers of all kinds. But the most spectacular sight was flying over the islands of Suur Pakri and Vaike Pakri located in front of Paldiski. These have been used for decades as polygon by Soviet fighters and bombers who came from nearby bases, hence the mass of weapons and what remains of the targets is impressive, there are no 10 square meters free of craters caused by the falling of bombs and other things. Of course, these islands will remain uninhabited for many years to come for safety reasons.