The ‘Norwegian chapter’ in the book of aviation history is a peculiar and interesting one. Similarly to virtually every Country in the western world, in the early age of aviation small manufacturing companies appeared also in Norway. Despite meeting with little success in the long run, they contributed in creating momentum around those ‘novel flying machines’. Norway, with a sinuous coastline stretching for some thousands miles from the latitude of England up north to where the European continent ends, and with a land largely covered in snow for many months per year, has been an ideal place for the development of a local air network since the early days of aviation. This created an alternative link between smaller communities and industry centers. As a matter of fact, similarly to Greece, Norway is among the top employers of smaller aircraft for commercial routes in Europe still today.
To the same early era belong the now almost mythological arctic expeditions, carried out also by air – by plane or airship – and almost invariably departing from Norway. The well-known Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen was an advocate of air explorations, and his primary contributions to geographical explorations have constituted in some cases milestones in aviation history.
Despite a significant down-scaling of its Armed Forces in the post-Cold War scenario causing a strong reduction of the military presence in the Country, Norway has been in the focus of massive military operations since the 1930s.
In particular, both its geographical position and natural resources met the appetite of the Third Reich, which successfully invaded Norway in a blitzkrieg campaign in late spring 1940. Through an action based strongly on airlift capacity, German cargo planes relocated personnel and material very effectively to Norway. The crown and government were forced into exile in Britain, and with it also the military chain of command. Actually, the air force academy was moved to Toronto area, Ontario, where the military facilities of Norway got the name of ‘Little Norway’. New Norwegian pilots were relentlessly trained there, preparing them to repel the enemy from their Scandinavian motherland.
The Third Reich managed to keep a grip on southern Norway until its collapse and the end of WWII in Europe. Having witnessed the failure of neutrality as a foreign policy, in the rapidly deteriorating post-WWII scenario and the beginning of the Cold War between the Soviet-led eastern bloc and the free democracies of the western world, Norway joined NATO as a founding member.
Since then and for more than four decades, Norway was on one of the ‘hot’ fronts of the war, with a border-crossing point with the USSR, and a privileged position to patrol the skies over the shipping routes leading from the highly-militarized Kola peninsula into the Atlantic Ocean (see this post). Keeping a constant watch on the air, surface and submarine movements of the USSR was a task brilliantly covered by the Norwegian Air Force and Navy for the entire duration of the Cold War.
Today, western world issues like climate-related hysteria and hardly shareable, deeply ideological so-called ‘carbon neutrality’ policies promise to definitively clip the wings to sport, private and commercial aviation especially in this Country, through an unprecedented technological leap back. Similarly, the (today, so evidently) short-sighted post-Cold War dismantlement of military power in Europe has impacted military forces also in Norway.
However, the memory of the glorious years when this proud Scandinavian Nation has been on the forefront of aviation technology and in the focus of military action are duly relived in two wonderful aviation collections, celebrating what can be achieved through technical skill, courage and good national ideals.
One of these collections is the Norwegian Aviation Museum, located east of the airport of Bodø, a coastal town on the Norwegian Sea, not far north of the Polar Circle. The other is the Norwegian Armed Forces Aircraft Collection, located just west of Oslo-Gardermoen Airport, in the south of the Country and close to the capital city. Both museums host world-class collections, really worth a detour for aviation-minded people from whatever continent, and for the general public as well, as can be possibly perceived from the pictures in this post.
Photographs in this post were taken during a visit to both destinations in August 2022.
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Norwegian Aviation Museum – Bodø
The Norwegian Aviation Museum in Bodø is located on the northeastern corner of the airport, dominating this coastal town north of the Polar Circle. The airport was founded back in the 1920s, strongly potentiated by the Germans in WWII, and extensively used over the Cold War decades for mixed military and civil use. Today, it is mainly a commercial airport, with some residual military activity. However, the Air Station at Bodø shows evident traces of a military past – aircraft shelters, bunkers and large antenna arrays point the hilly panorama south of the runway.
The museum covers many aspects of the history of aeronautics in Norway. Both civil and military aviation are well represented, the respective collections being hosted in two adjoining large halls, merging into the central atrium – featuring a Northrop F-5 in the colors of the Royal Norwegian Air Force (RNoAF). This type has been the backbone of the RNoAF in the latter decades of the Cold War years.
Civil aviation hall
The proposed path in the civil aviation hall follows a chronological order, and starts with a display of memorabilia from the early aviation years and from the age of the adventurous polar explorations. The items on display include flags, historical pictures, personal belongings taken by explorers on polar exploration trips and many interesting explanatory panels.
Aircraft on display include rare early seaplanes, employed to establish transport services. These are put side by side with more modern aircraft of the company Widerøe, which today is responsible for most of the short-range high-frequency services linking the scattered settlements in the northern part of Norway – up to North Cape.
Nice advertisement posters are displayed to retrace the history of some classic airlines, including the all-private Braathens, once a major airline from Norway, and telling about the foundation of SAS – which incorporated also Braathens at the turn of the century – which stands for ‘Scandinavian Airlines System’. It is still today a big carrier linking Northern Europe and the world. These companies were among the world first massively flying polar routes, thanks to on-board instrumentation specifically made to tackle the navigation issues showing up when flying close to the poles.
A turning point in the history of Braathens has been the introduction of jets, in the form of the Fokker F.28, for which this airline has been a launch customer. An exemplar of the F.28 is partly preserved in the museum, allowing to check out the fully analog cockpit.
Helicopters, including one with a special pod hosting an entire berth for SAR operations, are also well represented. The Police is clearly using the latest models of rotary wing technology.
A rare aircraft on display is a British-made Britten-Norman Islander, once operating in the colors of the local company Norving. Very evocative pictures show the unusual scenarios often faced by airlines operating in near-polar regions!
Another peculiar mission covered by aircraft in Norway has been that of territory imaging and survey, including for archaeology in the search for ancient viking remains, typically hard to see from ground level. A Cessna 337 Skymaster push-pull originally tasked with this mission is on display. This type is pretty hard to see in Europe, but has enjoyed even a significant military career in the US (see this post).
A big bird on display is a beautiful original Junkers Ju-52 three-props seaplane. This is one of four originally in the fleet of the Norwegian flag carrier ‘Det Norske Luftfartselskap’, established in the 1930s, and operating with a mixed fleet of British, German and American models.
The cockpit of the Junkers has been put in a display case to be admired more easily.
Among the many other items on display in the civil aviation hall, you can find an original wind tunnel model of the Concorde, aircraft remains from an accident, and some unusual or one-off aircraft models.
Military aviation hall
The hall dedicated to military aviation starts again following the timeline of aviation history. The early-age manufacturers appearing in Norway when aircraft were still a totally new technological novelty are represented with dioramas of technical shops, scale models and historical pictures. Some aircraft dating to the pre-WWII years are also on display.
However, a major subject covered in the display is that of WWII. Norway was conquered by the invading German forces in a short and aggressive campaign in Spring 1940. Well planned from a strategic viewpoint, this operation included the capture of the airport of Oslo – the old field of Oslo-Fornebu – on the 9th of April, which was then used as a major base for landing transport aircraft, unloading military staff and material in the most populated area of the Country.
The landslide Third Reich invasion forced the government and the military chain of command to withdraw to Britain. An agreement was then settled to establish a military flight academy near Toronto, Ontario, to supply the Norwegian armed forces with new pilots, to carry out offensive operations from Britain.
The collection features many interesting items from WWII period. From a balcony you are offered a view of the collection, and a vantage view on the relic of a Luftwaffe Junkers Ju-88, transported to the museum after recovery.
The air operations in the invasion of Spring 1940 are documented with interesting scale models and dioramas, as well as much technical material retrieved from the days of German occupation. This includes cameras for photo reconnaissance, Third Reich military maps of the region, flags, aircraft engines, and many historical pictures.
From the same era, the cockpit of a Soviet Ilyushin Il-2 Sturmovik, documents of the air actions against the Third Reich occupants, and others concerning the history of ‘Little Norway’ – the Norwegian military training facilities in Canada – are also on display.
Aircraft displayed in this area include restored or partly reconstructed examples of a De Havilland Mosquito, a Supermarine Spitfire, as well as a Focke-Wulf FW190 and a Messerschmitt BF-109 on the German side.
All these birds together make for a really unusual and evocative sight today! Especially the German fighters are really rare to find, and their condition and presentation is really eye-catching.
Further aircraft from the time include a North American Harvard trainer, and a big Consolidated PBY Catalina seaplane used for patrol. The latter looks really massive hosted indoor, compared to smaller fighter aircraft!
Anti-aircraft guns and a pretty unusual radio emitter/transmission station, employed as beacons for helping instrumental navigation in the war years, are also part of this interesting display.
Next to the WWII area is the Cold War section of the display. Following the bad WWII experience with a policy of international neutrality, resulting in an invasion by a powerful enemy force, following the escalating divergence between the western Allies and the USSR, Norway opted for joining NATO as a founding member.
The alliance with the US and Britain, similar to other NATO Countries, meant a substantial supply of American and (at least in the beginning) British military supply. A North American F-86 Sabre and a Republic F-84 Thunderjet are two beautiful representatives from the early Cold War era. Similarly, a De Havilland Vampire is hanging from the ceiling.
A slightly more modern item is a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. Not much employed in the US, it covered the interceptor role along the border with the Eastern Bloc in Norway, Federal Germany and Italy for many years.
Historical pictures tell – among many interesting subjects – about other aircraft, like the Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star, as well as the F-104 and the F-5 involved in interception and escort flights, shadowing Tupolev Tu-95, Antonov An-12 and other USSR machines flying over international waters or scraping the border of Scandinavian airspaces – quintessential Cold War memories!
Possibly a reason for Bodø having grown to further fame in the aviation community of Western Countries is the presence here of a real Lockheed U-2 spy plane. This aircraft can be found in Europe only at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford, Britain, and here. Actually, a curious fact about Bodø is that it was a designated destination or an alternate (emergency) airfield for the perilous overflights of the USSR, carried out with the Lockheed U-2, and later with the Mach 3+ Lockheed SR-71. Actually, the latter landed here in one occasion, whereas the ill-fated mission of Francis Gary Powers, downed by Soviet SAMs while en-route north of Kazakhstan from Peshawar, Pakistan, had Bodø as a destination (see this post for pictures of the relic in Moscow).
The U-2 is displayed so that it is possible to both appreciate its slim shape and large wing span, and also get near to its cockpit. However, its installation and lighting inside the hall – and the fact that it is black… – make it a rather difficult target for photographs. Next to the aircraft, historical pictures and schemes tell about the mission of Francis Gary Powers. Interesting tables for the interpretation of photo intelligence are also on display.
Still in the Cold War part of the museum, a very unusual and interesting section is centered on the facilities and technical gear for the detection and monitoring of airspace intrusion, for early warning and for alerting the air defenses of the National airspace.
This secretive and little publicized branch of the military kept its ears and eyes constantly pointed on the moves of the colossal Soviet neighbor, recording every single movement – look for the super-interesting registry of USSR aircraft movements! – and constantly updating the situation, in order to be ready to counter a sudden ‘turn for the worst’, in case of an actual attack.
Interestingly, much of the electronics here is US made, as can be seen looking at the product tags.
The arsenal that could be employed to counter an air attack included the Nike-Ajax and later Nike-Hercules surface to air missiles, deployed along the border with the Eastern Bloc also in Denmark, Germany and Italy (see here and here).
Just to complete this incredible Cold War exhibition, an interesting and pretty unique air-dropped WE-177 nuclear bomb case is on display!
More modern addition to the aircraft collection include a General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon and some helicopters.
A latter interesting part of the military exhibition showcases an array of aircraft-mounted cannons from various ages, showing their precision and their effect on the same target. You can appreciate the effects of the technical evolution of these weapons.
Examples of air-launched missiles and sonobuoys, and a fine array of flight suits showing the evolution of their design, conclude this exceptional museum.
As a plus, the old control tower of the military air station has been turned into a panorama point, where you can watch air operation on the actual airport, and also listen to air traffic frequencies!
The gate guardians include a Bell helicopter and an old glorious Hawker Hurricane from WWII.
The museum is located at Bodø airport, and can be spotted pretty easily when entering the town. Bodø can be included – or considered as a starting point – in many tours of Northern Norway. The museum offers a large and convenient parking. It can be toured in not less than 2 hours for aviation-minded people. The website is here.
Norwegian Armed Forces Aircraft Collection – Oslo-Gardermoen
Coherently with its name, this wonderful collection is focused on military aviation in Norway. Most aircraft having served in the RNoAF at some point in history are represented, as well as some from WWII – not only from the Allied side, but most notably some rare exemplars from the Third Reich.
A great feature of this museum is also the architecture of the display. Put in a U-shaped building to the southwest of Oslo-Gardermoen airport, the aircraft are in most cases sufficiently far from one another to allow moving around freely, getting an unobstructed view from different angles. Furthermore, the natural lighting from the top windows is ideal for pictures (similar to the solution adopted in the Estonian Aviation Museum, see here).
Late 20th century
The display starts with the Northrop F-5, which is represented by three exemplars, interspersed with a single example of a General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon – currently in use with the RNoAF, to be replaced by the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II. The Freedom Fighter has been the backbone of the RNoAF for the latter years of the Cold War, being flanked and substituted by the Fighting Falcon, and now by the Lightning II.
The aircraft on display are two F-5 Freedom Fighter, i.e. the light fighter version – one in a distinctive tiger painting – and one RF-5 Tigereye, which has been developed from the original design into a capable photo reconnaissance aircraft.
Walking beneath the F-5 reveals many details, for instance the landing gear mechanism, the missile pylons and anchoring system, and JATO bottles for reducing the take-off distance.
A J85 jet engine – there were two for each F-5 – is on display, with the afterburner pipe mounted past the turbine exhaust. A choice of missiles and pods can be seen close to the ‘tiger painted’ exemplar. The latter can be boarded. The fully analog cockpit shows much standard instrumentation for flight control, navigation and engine management, but also an armament panel with weapons selection and activation switches. Also interesting are the parachute deployment lever, for the arresting parachute, or the underwing load jettison system.
The RF-4 reconnaissance aircraft features a nose camera, with a prominent lens which can be easily checked out. Similarly, the hatch of the port 20-mm cannon has been left open, showing the cannon body, barrel and the very neat ammo supply system.